Okay, I admit it. If a movie adaptation of a young adult novel is coming out, I am running—not walking—to the nearest local bookshop to purchase it.
So it is no surprise that I sprinted to get my hands on Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver.
I am really surprised that this book was made into a movie. The book is about a girl, Sam, who dies in a car accident, but she wakes up to repeat the day over again. This happens to her for seven days. Each day she tries to do something different so she doesn’t die (or just to see what happens). Basically, it is a darker, teen version of Groundhog Day. So much of the book rests on Sam’s narrative voice and thoughts that it is really hard to imagine it translated onto the big screen.
While I am skeptical of the plot as a movie, it really works as a novel.
Lauren Oliver is adept at forcing Sam to relive the same day without it ever being boring or repetitive. She has a knack for knowing which parts to skim over (or skip altogether) and when to highlight an event. She also makes each day different, but it is never changed just for the sake of variety. Sam makes choices each day that reflect her development as a character and are logical for the current information that she has.
Oliver also deserves praise for Sam.
She begins as a character that is totally despicable. This by itself is an act of bravery. So many writers shrink from creating an unlikeable character (particularly if the character is a female), so it was really refreshing to read one that is not sunshine and rainbows. She also develops in a logical and natural way that makes us absolutely adore her at the end of the book. Again, the fact that Oliver does this in a seamless way is no easy feat.
For romance fans, this book has a pairing that will make you more than happy to ship them. Hard.
The character Kent is the first manic pixie dream boy that I ever encountered, and I was thrilled to finally see the genders reversed in that dynamic. It was a breath of fresh air to see a male play the role of the conscience (well, one that wasn’t a cricket) and help the female character live. Still, he never falls into cartoonish territory, and the character does have more complexity than simply playing the role of hero.
[Spoiler Warning: The next paragraph contains information about the end of the book.]
My major problem with the book is the ending. While I understand Oliver was trying to convey ideas about redemption and sacrifice, the execution was flawed. The issue of suicide is complicated, and it is problematic that Sam believes it is her responsibility to prevent it. Also, I found it rather disturbing that the only way to get out of her limbo of the same day is to sacrifice herself for Juliet. I know Sam was a really terrible person at the beginning of the book, but there were more interesting ways of redemption than sacrificing her life for someone who didn’t really want to live.
Also, I think it is a dangerous assumption that Juliet will magically want to live because Sam sacrificed herself for her. Suicide is a way more complicated issue than the way the book portrayed it, and it is really disturbing that it is telling teen readers it’s somehow their personal responsibility to prevent it. Sure, they should want to help people, but it is not their fault if it happens.
Despite the ending, the book is a beautiful and worthwhile read.
Oliver’s prose is absolutely stunning, and who doesn’t want to read about a boy who makes paper cranes and funny comics?
If you grab a copy using this link, we’ll make pennies!