BEFORE I FALL
Sam Kingston has a pretty great life: She has great friends, she’s part of the popular crowd, and she’s finally dating the guy she’s been pining after since the days when she wasn’t popular enough for him to notice her… The biggest problem she has is getting her little sister to stop touching her things with her sticky fingers. But one night, on the way back from a party, Sam and her friends are involved in a car accident, and Sam dies – only to wake up again, back at the beginning of the same day.
Now, stuck in a time loop, she spends her day(s) trying to fix everything in it, hoping to find some way to save herself, and to make things right with the people that she loves.
Before I Fall was Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, and was originally published in 2010.
Time loops are hardly a new idea, but the execution of it on this book was masterful. Even though we’re essentially reading about the same day, over and over again, the small changes that come about as a result of Sam’s actions are shown in such a way that, each time she re-lives it, more things are revealed about the story and characters.
The story’s major theme – bullying – is also dealt with really maturely. Sam and her friends are all bullies, and while in many books this would make them the villains, Lauren Oliver did a great job at driving home the point that nobody is just one thing, and that everyone has experiences that have shaped them – and she manages to do this without trying to justify or trivialise their actions.
I’ve knocked a star off in this category simply because when I finished the book, I felt quite strongly that there should have been something more. It did end very well, but there were certain threads of the story that should have been expanded on – in particular, Kent’s part in the book ended on a very bittersweet note, and I also would have liked to have seen more of the “Pugs”, who are front-and-centre on Day 3, but never mentioned afterwards.
Before I Fall is a very character-driven story, and (appropriately) all the major characters are very well fleshed-out, and always felt very much like real people. Sam herself is an excellent lead character. She’s a bully, and while this ought to make her unsympathetic, it actually made it really interesting to read from her perspective… and it also allowed for some really incredible character development, as she gradually learns about the effect her and her friends’ actions have had on the people around them, and tries to correct it.
Of her circle of friends, the most prominent is Lindsay, the leader of their group, and the most aggressively antagonistic (the Regina George of the group, so to speak) – but at the same time, she also comes across as a good friend when she’s around Sam. Although she doesn’t have all that much character development over the course of the book (since she’s not living in a time loop, and therefore never remembers the events of the “previous” day), we do find out a lot about her background, which makes her a bit more understandable, though still not entirely sympathetic. And, just like Sam, she felt incredibly real.
Kent is the third character who really needs mentioning. He’s a childhood friend of Sam’s, who she’s become distant from – and whom she openly disdains – yet he’s also the only character in the book who always seems to believe that Sam is better than the person she seems to be, even when she doesn’t believe it herself. He sometimes came across as a little idealised, but he was sweet enough that I never really minded.
Other important characters include: Ally and Elody, Sam and Lindsay’s other two friends; Juliet “Psycho” Sykes, a girl that they’ve been bullying for years; Anna Cartullo, a social outcast at their school; and Rob, Sam’s disgusting boyfriend.
ROMANCE & RELATIONSHIPS [5/5]
There were two really important relationship dynamics in this book, the first of which was the friendship between Sam, Ally, Elody, and particularly Lindsay. They’re very clannish: Lindsay is the most outgoing, and (at least in public) the rest of them all follow her lead – and they look out for each other, even when they’re not getting along. Their relationship was far from ideal, but despite (or perhaps because of) this, it still felt very believable, and I really loved seeing them eventually face – and try to work through – their differences.
The romance is less important, but still present, and centres on Sam’s relationships with Rob – the boy she pined after for years, but who isn’t quite living up to her fantasies now that they’re actually together – and with Kent – the boy who she believes is in love with her, but whom she’s always done her best to avoid. I personally found Rob disgusting (as I believe we were supposed to), so it was quite satisfying to watch their relationship fall apart, while still understanding Sam’s unhappiness over it; and at the same time, it was also incredibly sweet watching her relationship with Kent begin to change as she saw him from different perspectives than her usual one.
The writing was also excellent, on the whole – fast paced, and very engaging. I liked how, instead of having chapters, the book was separated into days, but otherwise there was nothing in particular about the style that jumped out at me… And I wasn’t a huge fan of the summary-style prologue and epilogue, which is why I’ve only given this section a four.
OVERALL IMPRESSION [4/5]
A touching and very true-to-life look at a group of characters who are not always (in fact, usually not) the best of people, but still somehow manage to be both sympathetic and relatable. And while “real” isn’t a word that I’d usually use to describe a story that’s about repeating the same day over and over again, the characters and situations, and Sam’s reactions to the events of the story were all incredibly genuine. Overall, an enjoyable and interesting story.
Fans of the social commentary in Mean Girls (the film), and the emotion in books like A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, or The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Those who enjoyed Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why will probably also be interested by the similar themes in this book – and particularly in Oliver’s depiction of the butterfly effect.