It's not often that a book that leaves me with more questions than answers is actually a very, very good thing.
Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver sits in my category of "I Wish This Had Been Written When I Was a Teenager." It's uncomfortable, heartbreaking, and disturbing, but with a powerful message that's rendered me speechless. While at just under 500 pages, this weighty chunkster of a novel reads quickly and pulls at your heart, along the way forcing you to look at your own life and question the whys and why nots of your own choices.
Sam is a senior in high school and is one of a group of four girls that are the most popular. If you're not in their social status, then you probably want to be noticed by them, but would be terrified if they did. Sam, Lindsay, Elody, and Ally are best friends and live their lives where drinking, flirting with teachers, and casual sex is the norm, as is ridiculing anyone labeled a "freak." How can they get away with it? There must be some rule book that to be popular in high school, you have to be just plain mean. But, tonight is Friday, and it's time for the party everyone is going to. It will be a night of drinking, picking on a couple of people, and even the tension of Sam possibly losing her virginity to the hottest guy in school won't slow them down. The night ends with all four girls leaving the party and before they know it, they're in a brutal car accident and Sam didn't make it. She died in the car, but she's actually still living. Living that very last day, each mean act, over and over again.
Well. To live each day the same as the next? That would certainly put a pretty big magnifying glass over every single final action. Living a life in analysis is a gift, but if you were mean and living the same exact day over and over and over... it would be an absolute curse. You'd be exposing some awful things, see yourself in a way you might not like, that could make you just hate yourself. What I thought was even more fascinating about this book is that it also brings to mind another thought about the whole high school dynamic - on the surface, one might be a villain, but it's also very possible that they could be just as mixed up and confused about their own lives as the ones they pick on. The bully might be a bully, but the bully might be every bit as insecure as the next high school kid. How can they unwrap themselves out of the never-ending repetition of being mean? Unbeknownst to them, their one mean action, seemingly forgettable to them at the time, could have a ripple effect that is unmeasurable.
I walked away with so many questions, specifically one we should all ask ourselves. If you were to die today, would you be proud of the way you treated others?
I would recommend this to absolutely anyone. Parents, as always though, I'd suggest you read it first before giving to your kids to read, but I would probably bet that a sixteen-year-old would completely relate to a lot of the situations in this book. Lauren Oliver isn't afraid to tap into some of the very things that are nonchalantly brushed off and taken advantage of. While capturing young life so authentically, she's made it okay to remind yourself to do the things we can so easily forget. Think about it. And make good choices.
One of my favorite passages:
As I head up from the gym it strikes me how strange people are. You can see them every day - you can think you know them - and then you find out you hardly know them at all. I feel exhilarated, kind of like I'm being spun around a whirlpool, circling closer and closer around the same people and the same events but seeing things from different angles. (p. 159)
Coffee and a Book Chick
About the Author
Lauren Oliver was previously an editorial assistant at a publishing company in New York. A graduate of the University of Chicago and the MFA program at New York University, she is now a full-time writer and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Before I Fall is her first novel and Delirium is her second.
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