Title: Before I Fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Genre: Young Adult, Paranormal, Contemporary
My Rating: ★★★★ (3.7 stars)
Once upon a time, a teenage girl died in a car crash.
The End? Not quite. It’s just the beginning of a story that may actually have a happy-ever-after—an unconventional one, especially in the first place it is not a fairytale at all.
Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, Before I Fall, follows the story of popular high school girl Samantha Kingston. More specifically, it revolves around the very day that Sam died, which she is “doomed” to repeat in some kind of a time loop until she figures out how to escape it. For seven times the same day is told, but with Oliver’s soul-crushingly beautiful writing, the formulaic albeit well-orchestrated plot comes off as refreshing. As you read along, you will not feel as if the six days are just echoes of the first one.
YA books with first person points of view are not my cup of tea, but there are a few that I liked unreservedly. Before I Fall is now one of them. Sam’s voice is surprisingly good; I find myself drawn to her story just a few pages after the prologue. Given her quandary, I find her medley of reactions and ruminations about the same things on the same day utterly realistic. Needless to say, her characterization is superb. Her transformation throughout the book is akin to watching a butterfly as it wriggles out of its chrysalis—the readers journey with her as she attempts to rectify the mistakes that she regrets to have committed, as she peels the superficial layers of herself and of her friends, and as she opens her eyes to appreciate everything that she has taken for granted when she is still alive. She grows and learns that life never fails to teach her something new (even if she is technically dead). I commend the ace character development.
Over the sevenfold loop, Oliver didn’t forget to give the readers a kaleidoscopic glimpse on the lives of the other characters. She made it a point to not let any character be considered just black or white—everybody has shades of gray, just like in real life. There are a lot of teen books that deal with cliques, drugs, booze, and parties, but I think this book pretty much set the bar when it comes to honest portrayal of a typical high school life. The prose even has a journalistic quality to it, in a sense that Oliver didn’t bother on putting too much sugarcoating or melodrama to make it more appealing. A clear reflection is enough.
The pattern for day 1 is used loosely throughout the book, but the story never comes off as lackluster. The pacing makes for a thrilling read, and both the minor and major epiphanies will hold your attention and evoke several emotions. Anyone who likes romance will get a treat, too, but I think you should watch out for the ever-complicated relationships between friends. All kinds of friendships have their own versions of complexities, and Oliver managed to execute that very well.
Thumbs up for a satisfying read!
(photo by kayceemacuha)