Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver — 480 pgs

Before I Fall Sam Kingston is one of the popular girls. The kind of girl that is idolized by her peers and can get away with just about anything. In her close social circle are Lindsay the queen-bee, Elody the fast and loose girl, and Ally the not so bright one. As Sam and her friends plow their way to the top of the the social strata of Thomas Jefferson High, everyone else needs to make way. But today will be a day like no other, because today, Sam will die. This is just the beginning of the story, because although Sam is dead, she seems to be reliving her last day over and over again. As Sam navigates her way through that last fateful day time and again, she works on several different ways to circumvent the accident that will take her life and comes to discover just what life is like for the people who orbit her little cruel little clique. A clever textual cross between Groundhog Day and Mean Girls, Before I Fall is the story of the endless permutations of fate and one girl who will try to defy them all.

This book was our July choice for the Books, Babes, and Bordeaux book club, but it’s not like I needed that excuse to read it, because frankly, it’s been on my radar since I read the first rave review several months ago. And while I usually eschew books that have been hyped, something about this one had me eager to read it and see what I made of it for myself. Though I’m probably the last person on the planet to have read this one, I’m glad I finally did, because it blew my socks off. It was a clever read to spend an afternoon with, and I finished it in one sitting. Now I’m officially wondering why I always insist on being the last to the party when it comes to books like this?

Sam and her friends are mean girls, there are no two ways about it. In a school full of prosperous students, these girls are at the top: wealthy, exclusive and snotty. While I was reading, I was mentally traversing the miles back to when I was in high school and remembering what it felt like to be caught up in the bizarre social intricacies that my kids are a part of now. I kind of wanted to smack Sam and her friends a lot of the time. They seemed to be unendingly shallow and narcissistic, and though I imagine it would have been nice to be on top of the world when I was seventeen, these four girls made me a little sick. I suppose that in a world full of designer boots and keg parties someone has to emerge as the alpha dog set, but reading about how Sam and her friends did that made me more than a little sad and angry. As Sam repeatedly teeters on the precipice of a day that will change her future forever, she somehow begins to register that the things she and her friends have been doing for so long might just be wrong.

One of the things I liked about this book was the fact that it was so realistic. I know it’s been many moons since I was in high school, but with two kids who are there now, you do hear things about what it’s like to be a teenager in today’s society. Drinking, sex, drugs and status are all beating about this story in a heady mixture, and the complex act of balancing them all, coupled with the popularity factor, was interesting to read about. Lauren Oliver understands teenagers quite well, and that fact is reflected in her writing. The social hierarchy of high school is represented unflinchingly here, and it all felt so real that it was hard not to get caught up in. Moving around from circle to circle as Sam tries to figure out what’s going on, the reader gets a peek at almost every social group in the school and how they impact each other. There is, of course, a romantic component to this book as well, and it was created with just enough longing, lust and romance to be both relevant and moving. In this stifling world of social pressure, Sam and her friends are at center stage, and the things they do, not only to those on the outside but to each other, are not only intense but very shortsighted.

I’m kind of hard pressed to say why this book worked so well for me. Obviously the plot had a lot to do with it, but I also think that the sense of urgency in which the book was written, along with the peek it gave into the random social workings of a group of high-schoolers was a big draw. Though Sam is desperately trying to turn back the hands of time or learn the secret that will change her fate, she ends up discovering so much more along the way. Like the fact that all the people she and her friends bully are real people, with real feelings, and the fact that the friends whom she so idolizes are not exactly who she thinks they are. There are some tough issues addressed in this book. Eating disorders, suicide, mental illness and promiscuity are just a few that I can mention, but there are many more issues that push the envelope in this narrative. It’s a complex book that doesn’t dumb down for it’s audience, and the effect is a feeling of timelessness and relevance. It also presents an object lesson but doesn't do it in a preachy or smarmy way; instead the book gives a simple and intelligent cautionary tale.

Though I’m the last on the bandwagon with this book, I will go ahead and echo what others have already said: Go get this book, now! It’s a brilliant piece of social commentary housed within a story that you won’t be able to look away from, and Oliver succeeds beautifully in creating the type of book that not only works for the YA audience, but for the adult set as well. A great crossover read that’s both intense and thought-provoking. Highly recommended!

24 comments:

Sandy Nawrot said...

Yay! So glad you read it and liked it! It was a quick read wasn't it? I've never blown through so many pages so fast. It was a harsh, jarring view of today's teens, but there were some great lessons in there. While I had to suspend belief a little (not everything was explained) it didn't bother me a bit. Can't wait to talk about this one at book club. Now you need to read Oliver's "Delirious"!!!

Swapna said...

SO glad you enjoyed this one! I often have difficulty with YA, but this was one I could just not put down.

Geosi said...

You seem to have enjoyed this...I will definitely look out for this, Zibilee.

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I've had this one on my wishlist for a while. I think I will need to download it ASAP! Great review.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Yay! It knocked my socks off as well! Unfortunately though, it set my hopes up so high for Delirium I was a bit disappointed, and wondered how I would have felt had I not been blown away by this one first!

Darlene said...

You're not last with this one. That would be me! I've had this book on my shelf for ages and have wanted some time to read it. You've made me want to pick it up even more now. Great review!

Pam (@iwriteinbooks) said...

Oh, I'm so glad that you liked this so much! I've heard good things about it but haven't read it, myself. I read Delirium, a few months ago, and really enjoyed it. I've heard that This is better. Thanks for the great review!

Aths said...

I still have this one to read and I can't wait to get to it yet! I've been hearing so many good things about this. The idea of living the same day over and over kind of appeals, because you make mistakes and you want to avoid them, but eventually the result can sometimes still be the same. I really loved your review!

Audra said...

I've seen/heard a lot of buzz about this but your review has me considering it seriously -- I'm not totally a YA fan if it's not sort of supernatural-y but this sounds smart and real.

bermudaonion said...

I've had this book and was kind of waiting for the buzz to die down before I read it. It sounds wonderful and it sounds like a book that will make me glad I'm through with high school.

Suko said...

Great review--this does sound like a brilliant book, Zibilee!

Marie said...

I'm glad to hear this has crossover appeal for adult-book readers- sounds like a winner to me!

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

Sounds like a wonderful story that offers lots of food for thought. Oliver always gets raves. I have two books by her that I have to read now.

TheBookGirl said...

One of the pluses for me about getting older is that my high school days are further behind me...maybe that's why I have studiously avoided most "realistic" YA fiction. Your enthusiastic review of this one has tempted me, tho.

nomadreader said...

I was surprised how much I liked this one. I feared the Groundhog Day element would be tired, and I don't read much YA, but I really liked Sam. More importantly, I thought she was a real teenager, selfishness, lack of perspective and all. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Vasilly said...

Wow! What a wonderful review! I knew this was about a young girl going back through her last days but I didn't know about the social commentary too. Now I'm more interested in reading this book.

Lisa said...

I think it says something about the writing of this book that people so much out of this book's target audience can so readily relate to it.

Jenny said...

Ooh I'm so glad you liked this! I really liked it too and thought the author did a great job of portraying a genuine view of high school.

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I enjoyed this book immensely when I read it a few months ago! So happy you enjoyed it - such a quick read, too.

Nymeth said...

No, I'm afraid *I* will be the last one on the bandwagon :P But it does sound like it will live up to my now very high expectations.

Liz @ Cleverly Inked said...

Before I Fall was well done YA book. It's one that can cross over. You're right the pacing was perfect for the plot.

Milli said...

i've been hearing about this book forever! fantastic review! i'm glad it was good C;

milli-doodlereads.blogspot.com

Bookfool said...

I loved this one, too. In fact, I checked it out from the library and was so impressed that I put it on my wishlist. Like I need more books. Great review!

Mumsy said...

I liked this too. I liked how Sam kept trying different things to make things better, and how her kinder actions often had tragic, unforeseen consequences. I liked the idea that, because she was going to die young, she had to grow to adulthood in this one particular situation - focusing on just one slice of life rather than generalizing, because her time was so short.

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