Book Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

beforeifall_movieeditionBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver   

Genre: Young Adult

Publishing Info: Kindle edition (first published 2010)

Pages: 484

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Back Cover Summary:

For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—”Cupid Day”—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.

However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.

After I finished reading this book I really had no idea how I would approach writing a review for it. I went through so many different emotions as I read it. There were times when I hated, times when I loved it, times it made me sad, times I was frustrated by it. It was a rollercoaster.

The main character, Sam, was really irritating. At first I found that annoying, but then I realised she couldn’t be a nice person at the start, could she? How could there be a redemption arc (which is what Oliver seemed to be going for) if Sam was a good person from the start? So I accepted that I didn’t like her character, thinking that she would grow on me as she developed.

However, for most of the book she was still annoying. She was just so selfish. When she realised she was living the same day over and decided to do something good it wasn’t because she wanted to help the other person, it was because she thought it might be her ticket out of this endless loop. And even in the last section of the book, although she didn’t seem quite as selfish, I didn’t get the feeling she was doing the ‘good’ things totally selflessly. Maybe that’s the point though. Maybe if her character had done a complete arc from popular mean girl to selfless good girl in seven days I would have thought she changed too quickly or would have found it too cliché.

All of the characters were painted really vividly, even if I didn’t like all of them. Even characters who featured only a small amount felt like real people not just anonymous faces. The friendship between Sam and her friends was portrayed especially well.

There were so many threads and characters, Oliver did a great job of weaving them together, and showing how Sam doing a different thing on the next iteration of the day impacted on something that happened to another character. The concept of repeating the day over is so interesting and I think the author did write that aspect of the book well.

I did like how scenes are really fleshed out. Often scenes are skimmed over in books where there is a more fast pace, but in Before I Fall Oliver took the time to paint scenes and make them really pop.

While I like ambiguous endings and think they can be really effective, with this one I was disappointed there weren’t more answers. I didn’t know what to think or feel at the end. It’s the sort of book where some ambiguity would work, but it was as ambiguous as you can get and for some reason I was left feeling unsatisfied. There wasn’t really any explanation of what is happening to Sam, where she is, she’s dead but where is she and why is she reliving this day? For redemption of some kind perhaps, but why, how? Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for an ambiguous ending.

I’m not sure if this is science fiction or supernatural or spiritual sub-genre or something else entirely, but I liked that it wasn’t a straight contemporary, that its focus was on issues explored in YA contemporary but used the repeating day to explore those issues.

I’ve seen it compared to If I Stay and Thirteen Reasons Why, and I can see why. The comparison of life-after-death with If I Stay is obvious, and it tackles bullying and high school culture like Thirteen Reasons Why. But for some reason, I didn’t like it as much as those two. If I Stay is one of my favourites, it turned me into an emotional wreck because it was an amazing book but so sad and gave me so many emotions. Thirteen Reasons Why, although very different, also left a big impression. Before I Fall isn’t as memorable for me. Although, I think maybe I’d enjoy it more if I read it again, that I would fall in love with it more if I returned to it in a few years time. Like If I Stay and Thirteen Reasons Why, it is thought-provoking and moving, but it didn’t have as much impact and I think I need it to re-read it to fully appreciate its nuances.

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