Sam has it easy in high school. She and her three best friends are part of the most popular circle. They can get away with pretty much anything, and they do. Then one night, on the way home from a party, the four friends skid off the road and run into a tree. Sam doesn’t remember the impact. She doesn’t remember anything. She dreams of falling…until she wakes up and has to relive the day all over again.
What would you do if you had to live one day over and over? Can you change anything? Can you make a difference? Can you save yourself?
I saw a whole bunch of reviews for this book at some point awhile back, some sort of tour, I think. At the time, I wasn’t terribly interested in it and never really read what it was about. At BEA, however, I heard Oliver talking about the book and it perked my interest, so I was glad to find out that my YA book club is reading it this month! I didn’t expect it to be quite so huge – 470 pages! – or that I would end up getting so sucked into the book that I’d read the whole thing in a day, even though I had work I really needed to do around the house.
Before I Fall was very good. I started out being unsure. I couldn’t stand Sam or her awful, spoiled friends. They were the epitome of high school bullies, judging everyone around them and outlining the ridiculous social rules that go on in school at that age. I never liked those sorts of people when I was in school, and I don’t like them now. However, after spending nearly 500 pages with Sam, Lindsay, Ally, and Elody, I really got to know them better and came to understand them. Sometimes their behavior was unpredictable – like on the day when Sam chews Lindsay out, I expected retaliation, not hesitation, depression, or confusion. The book made me realize just how human these girls were, not merely their image or stereotype. For a book that’s about teaching Sam not to judge others, Oliver really turned it on its head to teach the reader the same. I appreciated that.
Another, sillier thing I loved: Kent, the love interest. It’s hilarious to me that Sam describes him as a complete misfit. Just read this:
Since freshman year he’s always worn a blazer to school, even though most of the ones he owns are ripped at the seams or have holes in the elbows. He wears the same scuffed-up black-and-white checkered sneakers every day and his hair is so long it’s like a curtain that swings down over his eyes every five seconds. But the real deal breaker is this: he actually wears a bowler hat. To school.
Okay seriously? That’s the description of a weirdo? Um, swoon. Really a bowler hat? Swoon! Couple that with the fact that he’s a nice guy who is always trying to help people? Sounds perfect to me. I love men’s formal hats – bowlers, fedoras, porkpies, whatever – and it surprised me that that’s what’s considered uncool these days. As if wearing a hat is such a faux-pas that one cannot recover on the social status ladder. Give me a break. You can see, then, why I didn’t like Sam so much at the beginning! Everything she said sounded condescending and mean-spirited like this. So judgmental. That’s what she has to learn as she repeats the day ad nauseum: how to empathize and understand.
Can she save herself? That’s debatable, and not a debate I’m going to have here and give away the ending. Let’s just say that I was satisfied with the end, which was neither as grim nor as happy nor as easy as I expected it could be. It took that tough middle road, another thing I appreciated. I really respect authors who can do that, and I very much look forward to reading Oliver’s next book.