“ Author: Lauren Oliver / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 22 July 2010 / Genre: Children's General Fiction / Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton General Division / Title: Before I Fall / ISBN 13: 9780340980903 / ISBN 10: 0340980903 / Alternative EAN: 9780340980897 „
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What would you do if you only had one day to live? Better yet, what would you do if you could re-live your last day on earth?
This is the question that Samantha Kingston must answer when she finds herself repeatedly going over her very last day before she died. Samantha is a popular high school student with solid friends and a hot boyfriend. The morning she dies, her only concern is losing her virginity later that night, but after her death, Samantha gets a total of seven chances to change the way she lives her last day on earth. Although an average teenager, there are many things she could do differently it seems. Before she knew that was her last day, she cheated on a test, skipped out on one of her classes and was generally not a very nice girl to other students - and to one in particular.
So what would she do differently given all these extra chances...?
At the start of this book, I wasn't convinced that Samantha was going to be the type of character that I would like enough to care about what happened to her. Far from the average American teen, Samantha is cast as a standard movie stereotype; pretty, popular and down-right mean. As mentioned in the summary of the book, Samantha spends her day pretty much not caring about anything other than worrying about her first time with boyfriend Rob and it is not so much the cheating on tests but more her attitude to fellow students and her relationship with her closest friends that put me on edge. Reading about Sam and her friends, I had a clear image of the girls similar to that of the girls portrayed in the film "Mean Girls"; all the girls blindly follow their "leader" Lindsay without question and are especially nasty to one girl in particular who becomes very important to the story. Throughout Sam's first day, I read with little interest in Samantha herself and wondered whether I'd get further than the next chapter. However, each chapter represents a new beginning of the same day and after chapter one when she dies (not a spoiler, it's just obvious from the out start) each new chapter is Sam living out the same day, but only she knows that she is repeating what has happened before - like Groundhog day! Curious as to how the author would make it work, I read on...
Reading about the same day over and over - what makes it compelling enough to read on?
What follows was a surprise to me and thankfully Samantha's dislikeable personality on the first chapter of her life serves a purpose as gradually each chapter she learns something different. This sounds a bit preachy, but it doesn't at all come across like that. In fact, due to the nature of Sam's situation, the actual story progression is very subtle - as a reader we are reading about the same day over and over again after all. However, there is something compelling about reading about a girl who has made plenty of mistakes have to relive her day again. I wanted to know if there was anything that she would do differently and exactly what she would do and how her emotions would change.
Over the course of the chapters, Samantha also subtly changes with the story and slowly I warm to her and will her on. Not only is Sam's different decisions a compelling part of reading on, but also the author uses her altered decisions to show different things that happen throughout the day in her life, all of which are caused by the ripple effect of Sam's decisions. This to me was really fascinating and I like these little subtle changes to the overall story.
I've talked a bit about how I felt about Samantha through the book and it is true to say that she seems like a different character by the end of the story. This really is obvious, as Sam is able to see the effects her decisions throughout the day makes on everyone around her and she changes for the better, only underpinned by the fact that her best friends comment several times about how someone has taken over sums body and that they want the "old" Sam back!
You would imagine then that the other characters in the story do not develop much further than when we see them through Sam's eyes on the very first day. What is interesting is that the author manages to develop some of the characters through Samantha's feelings for them, whilst others remain one dimensional - like Samantha's friends and boyfriends who still manage to say pretty much the same things and act the same way each time despite Samantha changing the way the day pans out with them. They became good background characters that the reader can measure Sam's changes by.
Two important characters that develop successfully along with Samantha are Kent, who has had a crush on Samantha for a long time despite her poor treatment of him and Juliet, another student whom Samantha and her friends have picked on continuously throughout their school life. Both of these characters have a tremendous impact on how Samantha changes things in her last day and as a result, leave a huge impression on the story as a whole. Although they are not aware that Sam is reliving the same day over again, because of their different interaction with her each time she relives her life, it feels that we are learning something new about each of them, and there is then a bit of development in each of them.
There is a turning point in this story where I felt that this story was taking on a more serious tone and this happens in one of Samantha's versions of her day. To avoid facing death, she decides to talk her friends into staying in and not going out; but instead of stopping the events that lead to her death, she finds another reality has happened involving Juliet which shocks her to the core. This really makes her question how she has lived her life up until this point. Underpinning this, in the first chapter Samantha says:
"Before you start pointing fingers, let me ask you: is what I did really so bad? So bad I deserved to die? So bad I deserved to die like that? Is what I did really so much worse then what anybody else does? Is it really so much worse then what you do? Think about it."
This was really the crux of the story, after all, Samantha is just a teenager and perhaps most people have made similar mistakes to what she has, maybe worse. Most of those people will get to adulthood and never think of it or if they do, it will be fleeting. Samantha gets to relive over and over again those mistakes and work out for herself what she should have done to make it right. This seems like a story with a very strong moral to it, but the story is so good it doesn't matter. Samantha's attempts to make it right are interesting and learning how the stories pan out is gripping - despite knowing the ending from the very beginning! I hoped very much that the author wouldn't "cop out" with the ending and change it completely, and I was pleased with the way she dealt with it.
Despite Samantha's fate being sealed from the beginning, this book felt hopeful and was extremely emotive and well written to boot.
Sam Kingston thinks that she is a normal 18 year old, and enjoys school, partying and spending time with her boyfriend. However, when she ends up in a fatal car crash the evening of a big party, Sam is shocked when she wakes up only to relive the same day again.... and again and again. Sam's frightened because she doesn't know what is going on, and she doesn't know how to stop herself being in limbo either. Sam is forced to keeping living the same things over and over, but each day she thinks about doing things differently. Is Sam ever going to wake up, and will she realise what's truly important before it's too late for good?
I am not a fan of the Young Adult genre generally, I find the books good but just not my cup of tea. I got sent this from the lovely publishers at Hodder, and wasn't at all sure about reading simply because of its genre. However, I kept reading such good things online about it that I just couldn't help but pick it up and give the first few chapters a whirl as that's usually enough to tell me if I like something or not. Needless to say I was absolutely hooked just as Leah said I would be and I plowed through the rest of the book, totally forgetting that it was young adult and just enjoying a fantastic book.
The "dying teen" issue is one that has been quite overdone lately in the YA genre. There is this book, Gayle Forman's 'If I Stay' and Jenny Downham's 'Before I Die' to mention just a few, but they've all been very popular with their readers so far. I wondered how Oliver would be able to do this subject justice without making it overly sentimental or too predictable by the end but I really needn't have worried about any of these things. The story moves along perfectly, covering all angles that you'd expect as a reader, and it had a cast of characters who I really cared about by the last page.
Sam Kingston is the perfect lead character. She isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination - she hangs out with the wrong crowd, she's bitchy to people who don't deserve it and she doesn't realise how blessed her life is. However, this just makes her more real and believable as a character and most people will have known at least 1 Sam through their experience at school, I certainly did! However, my favourite thing about Sam was her development through the book. I loved her frustration when every new day came and she found she was living the same thing once more, it was so well written that you almost felt every emotion with her.
The things that happen in the book aren't always easy to read or enjoyable, but they are part of every teen's growing up experience. What's different for Sam is that she has a chance for redemption of her behaviour, and we're left wondering whether Sam is ever going to take that path. Sam's friends are also fantastic characters and again perfect examples of 18 year old schoolgirls. Lindsey is certainly the strongest and perhaps the one I disliked the most but I understood why she had to be that person for me. Elody is sweet but we don't get to see enough of her for me to have strong feelings either way. Finally, Ally was again likeable, but because they were living the same day over and over, we don't really see much change in them, and your focus is brought back to Sam which is of course the point.
There are several relationships going on throughout the book, and I am not just talking teen romances either. Oliver manages to hit on so many of these in the book that it really does make the book very emotional. She explores Sam's own relationship with her parents, and I think this was handled in a superb way, but better than this was Sam's bond with her younger sister Izzy. I had tears in my eyes in several parts because the writing was so raw, and well handled. We see the friendship between the 4 girls go through swings and roundabouts in the book, Sam chops and changes friends as the days go by, and it just keeps up the momentum of the book and the interest of the reader.
Even if you aren't a fan of YA, then I still say pick up a copy of this book. Yes, it falls into that genre because that is the primary market but the writing is of such a high standard and the book so enjoyable that I think pretty much anybody would fail to be moved by this book. I can't deny that I had tears in my eyes in several parts, and I was still surprised by the ending which I loved because I really thought I had it all sussed out. Yes, it's sad and emotional, but a good book can do that - it can make you laugh, cry, scream and weep, and that is what this book delivers more than anything - emotion. Lauren Oliver is certainly an enormous talent in the bookworld, and I cannot wait to see what she is going to do next because Before I Fall is simply a triumph.
ISBN: 978-0340980897. Published in March 2010 by Hodder & Stoughton. Pages: 352. RRP: £6.99.
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitreviews.com
Thank you for reading.
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.
Amazon has it half price at the moment - the current paperback edition rrp rrocks in at £11.99, so definitely one to look for online rather than pay full price for.
A version of this review first appeared on www.thebookbag.co.uk
"They say that when you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that's not how it happened for me"
When 18-year-old Sam Kingston wakes up on Cupids Day, the only worry she has is that she will recieve enough roses to show her popularity at her American high school. But what she doesn't know then is that later in the evening she'll be involved in a car crash and today will be her last.
Only, it isn't. Because Sam is caught somewhere between life and death and is forced to live her last day over and over again.
What do you do when you know your living your last day again? Do you change anything? Is it ever too late to learn about yourself?
There was such a huge buzz about this book, I was really excited to get started and settled down almost immediately with it. I was also a little bit worried, had I set such a huge expectation against it after the reams of glowing reviews that I was going to be disappointed? Not a chance! This is a real, once every now and then, will completely blow you away book.
Sam isn't immediately likable. She's one of the popular girls, part of a group who sneer at and bully the classmates who, in their opinion, fall below them on the social ladder. Worse is that while not the leader or instigator, she's a follower, and the followers are the ones who give the leader the power to carry on. But Sam wants to keep her popularity, so although she feels uncomfortable about things at times, she ignores this.
Sam's first day, the day the accident happens, isn't anything special really. It's Cupid Day and roses are given out at school, meaning it's a popularity contest to see who gets the most roses. This was an ingenious way to subtly introduce the complexities of school relationships and the hierarchy that exists within them as well as the importance of being popular, fitting in and the torture it can be when you don't. Being from the UK the idea of Cupid Day intrigued me and I have to say, I'm glad it's not something we did at school (only getting a Valentine from your mum was bad enough). The first fifty pages are a detailed description of a fairly normal and uneventful day, and without the blurb on the back or fantastic prologue you would be forgiven for thinking this was just a typical high school story. It isn't until Sam starts reliving the day over and over that you realise how important those details in the first section actually are as they begin to intricately weave in and out of the story.
This becomes an incredibly thought provoking book. How much do our actions, no matter how mundane and throwaway they are, have on a bigger picture? Sam begins to realise that there's a knock on effect for everything she does. The character development is fantastic as she faces each day with a changing attitude. With a first person narrative, I felt like I was right inside Sam's head and really understood her, even when I didn't agree with her. But its not just Sam's character that grows throughout the book, that of her friends and peers do too, as we see them living the same day in different perspectives. Lauren Oliver injects many teen issues throughout, and treats them with great sympathy and understanding. A picture is slowly built up of a few different characters and their problems, which through Sam become interlinked. I also adored the romance too within the book, which was beautiful, tender and heartrending.
Before I Fall is truly a brilliant book. I really did have the feeling that I was reading something very special. Even though I knew the premise, I had no idea how things were going to end. Every page brings something new, is completely unpredictable and had me gripped. I've read a few reviews that say this book would make a brilliant movie, and I have to agree. It's so visual I could picture it just reading. One thing I'm sure is that Lauren Oliver's debut novel is going to be HUGE. This is so much more than a teen high school book, and is a perfect crossover book for adults too. It's a very clever story of what ifs, redemption, appreciating what you have and discovering who you really are, even when it seems like it's too late. I can't imagine anyone not falling completely in love with Before I Fall and being so moved your still thinking about it days after finishing. The last time I was so completely blown away by a book was The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This is my Book of the year so far by a million miles, and really will take some beating!
~ Other Information ~
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
My copy published by Hodder & Stoughton General (4 Mar 2010)
Like most teenagers, Sam Kingston believes she's going to live forever. However on a rainy February Friday night, driving home from a party, Sam and her friends Elody, Lindsay and Ally end up in a car crash. A car crash that kills Sam. Trouble is, she wakes up the next day and it's that same Friday. As Sam keeps repeating that fateful Friday, she begins to realise that although she may not be able to save herself, she may well be able to save someone. The question is, will she be able to untangle all of the mysteries surrounding her death before her week is up?
When Hodder and Stoughton sent Chloe and I a bunch of books to review, Before I Fall was one of them. Up until then I had never heard of Lauren Oliver's debut novel and I added it to my shelf to be read at a later date. However as the months progressed I kept seeing reviews appear about the same book and everyone said more or less the same thing: This was a life-changing book. That really intrigued me and although I approached the book with some skepticism - a book changing lives and being so powerful that everyone raves about it? - I finally decided to sit down and have a read.
The first thing I want to say before I review the book itself is that I want to see this book made into a movie. The movie potential this book has is incredible and I'd be astounded if it wasn't optioned to be made into a film. Any film studio would have a winner on their hands if they picked this up because believe me, it is a powerful book. The book has been likened to Groundhog Day although I haven't actually seen it so I can't compare. I have however looked it up and yes, they sound rather similar which shows that Before I Fall could be a good movie!
I have to say though that at first I didn't know what to make of the book. For a while it seemed as though I wasn't going to like it and, even worse, I wasn't going to like Sam. The Prologue is fantastic and the build up to the crash was suspenseful but I just couldn't warm to Sam right away. The thing is I think that we're supposed to not really like Sam at the beginning. She's popular, has a fantastic boyfriend and her life couldn't be more perfect but because she was popular she wasn't exactly very nice. Not at first, anyway. I was very quickly sucked in though and as I got to know Sam more, I began to like her more.
The plot is immensely complex yet so simplistic at the same time: Sam dies but, it seems, she hasn't really died and has the chance to re-live her last day seven times. The book is broken up into sections for each of the replayed days and although repeating the same day seven times may seem repetitive and dull, it's not. As Sam re-lives that day again and again more things come to light about what happens the night of the crash and Sam seems to realise just what is important in life. It's ironic really that the only time Sam took stock of what a cow she was, was when she was dying/dead but I suppose that doesn't really matter as Sam did finally realise just how mean she could be. The changes as each day progresses and the realisations that come to Sam all happen subtly and slowly and everything that happens that day is unravelled until eventually Sam has the chance to somehow salvage something from such a horrible situation.
Sam is a cliched and typical character when we first meet her but as the book progressed and Sam herself began to change with the realisation that she really was reliving her death again and again I found myself warming to her. The truth is Sam doesn't go through any major changes from one day to the next - they're all little changes and realisations rather than one major change - so I don't know how I went from being lukewarm about her to completely loving her but I did. I put that down to Lauren Oliver's writing. Sam's friends Elody, Lindsay and Ally were also incredibly cliched when we first meet them and although they don't really experience many changes - they don't know they're reliving a day seven times - I did find myself warming to them also. It took a long time for me to warm to Lindsay, the ring leader of the four, but I admired her fierce streak throughout. Ally and Elody, although typical characters, were pretty likeable throughout. A favourite character of mine, though, was Kent, a friend of Sam's. He seemed to be always there for Sam (kind of) and he seemed incredibly nice.
The end of the book was immensely sad. I obviously knew something sad was coming but what Sam did shocked me completely. It all seems to happen so abruptly - even though it's been building for seven days. I found I was tearing up as we hurtled towards the end. It was definitely hugely emotional and it seemed like, for Sam, it was some kind of redemption. It was a very satisfactory end and how it all panned out was quite clever. Lauren Oliver is a hugely talented author, even if this is only her first book. The fact is she's managed to create such a web of a plot and manage to unravel it all as well as also keeping me guessing the entire time. The storyline is simple enough but it must have taken a lot to get everything all ironed out and I applaud Lauren Oliver for tackling such a plot. The plot isn't a happy one yet it never feels depressing; it actually feels uplifting. Sam may have been dead but she still had the chance to redeem herself in some way. The book never felt heavy or overly sad and I again must applaud Lauren Oliver's writing. Sam narrates the entire book and I could feel all of the emotions she felt. She goes through it all: anger, denial, helplessness and even acceptance and Sam really seemed to mature before the book came to its conclusion.
I really recommend you pick up Before I Fall. I truly believe that every teenager should be given this to read as it would really speak to them about a lot of things. The book may not feel heavy or depressing but it does tackle some difficult issues. I actually believe everyone should read this book because it truly is that fantastic. It's totally worth persevering with as once it gets going, it really gets going and I struggled to put it down. This is definitely a book I'll be reading again.