Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

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Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: It's Groundhog Day meets Flashforward in this intriguing story of a girl who is given a second chance, and then a third, but can she work out who she wants to be, and become that person, before it's too late?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 978-0340980897

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Samantha 'Sam' Kingston is, in many ways, your typical American high schooler whose concerns are pretty predictable: boys, friends, fashion, weird parents, annoying little sisters. Today it's Cupid Day, a chance to show off just how In you are at school, as measured by the number of roses you're sent, but Sam's not too worried about that. She knows she's part of a group who, by most definitions, would be called popular, and though sometimes inside she might feel on the inside a little like an imposter, on the outside, well, she's the definition of in.

Roll forward to the end of the first chapter and Samantha 'Sam' Kingston is dead, following some unfortunate choices at a rather wild party. For her friends and family, and for Sam too of course, things will never be the same again. Except...the very next day things are precisely that: the same. Sam awakes and goes about her day, but the previous night hasn't all been a dream as she realises she has woken up not the day after the accident, but the day of it. Feeling as though she's been given a second chance, Sam tries to change the fateful future she has already seen. The next day, though, she awakes once more to find it is the day of the accident yet again. As the week passes, and she goes through various stages of denial in trying to deal with her rather unique situation, the question remains: will she be able to do enough to change the course of history, or will she be doomed to repeat it, living that fateful day over and over again?

Snow delays and long haul flights meant I read this book pretty much in one single sitting, but even if I hadn't been locked in a tin can zooming across the Atlantic I doubt I'd have made it last much longer. I thought it was simply superb, from the excellent characterisation to the ever changing reactions Sam had to the same situation which seemed perfectly understandable (and perfectly sequenced) given her predicament.

There are many things that could have gone wrong with this book: Sam's discovery of who she is and who she wants to be could have been dripping in sentiment in an all too sickly way, the death(s) could have been too gory, the representation of cliquey teen life too over the top. Happily, the author avoids all these pitfalls to create a startling piece of writing that is utterly believable and beautifully told.

While I could praise it for its fluid style, its great plot development or the way it tackles death striking just the right balance between crass and heartbreaking, it's the portrayal of the heroine in this book that makes me want to cover it with gold stars. In a Mean Girls world, Sam is the one who has always gone with the flow without really thinking about whether she's becoming the person she wanted to be (or, as she so neatly puts it early on in the story: It's Connecticut. Being like the people around you is the whole point.) Now that she's had time to reflect on this state of affairs, watching her develop over time (or rather, over that same day which she lives again and again) is like watching a child learn a new skill, and grow with it. As a reader you almost feel responsible for nurturing and educating her, and, consequently, feel that her achievements are your achievements.

This is a book about teenagers but not only a teen book. Without meaning to offend, the writing here is of a much higher standard than your average teen read, and the themes explored in a much more mature way while at the same time acknowledging the fact that our heroine is only eighteen years old. While a book about (repeated) death may not be a typical backdrop for a fun read, there is a subtle humour to the pages which, combined with the sentiment, equates to a thoughtful read that is more inspiring than it is depressing.

Highly recommended. If you only read one book this year, it should be this one.

Thanks go to the publishers for sending us this book.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher takes another stab at the world of untimely teenage death, with promising results. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is a not dissimilar story that might also appeal, though personally I found Before I Fall a tad more readable. If you like to suspend belief of what is possible in the worlds of time and space, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is also worth a look, but start with this one first, it really is the best of the bunch.

Buy Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver at Amazon.com.


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Nigethan Sathiyalingam said:

This was easily my book of the year! I don't usually read this type of fiction, but I picked it up on a whim, and boy was I glad I did. I planned to read the book over a 12 hour flight, but after tasting the first few chapters at home, I abandoned my family in the packing of suitcases, and just devoured it. I really love your review - you put into words exactly what I felt about the book, especially where you compare reading about Sam with watching a child learn a new skill. One of the most uplifting and inspiring novels I've ever had the pleasure to read - I second the recommendation: If you only read one book this year, it should be this one.