Monday, July 05, 2010
Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
Is there a particularly rich seam of YA fiction available just now? Because on the heels of 13 Reasons Why and When I Reach You I met this book, which also struck me powerfully.
Snarkily billed as Groundhog's Day meets Mean Girls, this is the story of Sam Kingston, one of the "it" girls of her high school. She has three Very Best Friends, is dating the "it" boy, and has decided to sleep with him the evening of "Cupid Day"--a version of Valentine's Day. It is not a spoiler to say that she dies, however--the prologue explains it. The first chapter chronicles the last day of her life, before she knew it was going to be the last day.
As one of the popular girls she describes herself and her friends as (paraphrasing here) "we laugh too loud, we play too hard" but she feels that she's living life to the fullest. She goes through the day collecting Cupid Day roses, and goes to the Big Party that night. Her boyfriend drinks too much, which turns her off and she goes home with her friends. On the way home, they are in a car accident, but she wakes up the next morning in her own room. Sam is surprised, since she doesn't remember anything after the accident--and then she finds out its Friday. Again.
Oliver does a nice job of taking us through each of the next seven reiterations of "Cupid Day" without repeating--she gives us several events that serve as signposts so we know where in the day things happen. Yet Sam doesn't just repeat the day--for several days she tries to avoid the accident, including by not even going to the party at all. However, while she is safe, she finds that another girl in her class has committed suicide that night--and she still wakes up on Friday morning.
The lessons Sam has to learn are not anything new--appreciate your family, your actions affect other people, sometimes the right boy is NOT the boy you think it is. Oliver delivers these lessons in a way that makes them feel like Sam is really learning them for the first time, and the repeated day allow us to see all the ways Sam might have become a different girl based on her choices on that single day.
I really enjoyed this book, as it is clever, well written, and offers an unsentimental look at a believable teenager and her life. At the same time, Oliver deftly sketches out the better human being Sam could have become, and actually does become, if only for a few hours on the last day of her life. Thought provoking and worth a look.