Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Review of "Before I Fall" [5]

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Harper Collins, ISBN 006172680X
March 2, 2010, 480 pages

It is suppose to be a big day for Samantha Kingston. And it turns out to be just that, but just in a very different way than she anticipates.
It is Cupid Day at her school, where the lower class girls run around, delivering roses and messages, gifts from one student to another. Of course, the aim is to get more roses than anyone else and be proven most popular. Yes, some kids won't get any. So sad. Not that Sam has anything to worry about that, because she and her friends are the Popular Girls. It is also the day she will lose her virginity to her oh-so-crush-worthy boyfriend. So cool. Throw in some pot, a lot of alcohol, some drunk driving, any number of cruel remarks to those deemed the 'weird kids' and you have a full day for Sam!
Oh, except the part where she gets killed.

Don't worry. I am not giving anything away. Her getting killed is just the beginning of the story, because no sooner does she die than she finds herself back in her bed, the alarm going off..and it is Cupid Day. Again. And again. And again...It seems there are some things she has to get right before she moves on, and we get to go along as she tries to figure it out.
Have you seen Groundhog Day. Well, as others have said, this is Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls.

I read this book awhile ago and I have put off reviewing it. Actually it was yesterdays Musing Monday that got me to finally put pen to paper, so to speak. Why? Because it reminded me that we don't all like the same books. And, unlike the vast majority of bloggers..and reviewers on Amazon...and reviewers on Library Thing..and on Goodreads, I surely did not like this book.
Most people seem to LOVE this book.
I did not like it.
Not at all.

I saw this quote from an interview with the author, I believe on the B&N website..
"I have two hopes for you as you begin to read Before I Fall. The first is simply this: I hope that in the beginning, you do not like the main character, Samantha, or her three best friends. I hope you find them mean, petty, self-absorbed, and superficial." ... "My second hope is more conventional. I hope that by the end of the book you will love Sam, and that you will have come to a deeper understanding of her friends, with all of their faults and frailties."
I am sorry to say she succeeded in only one for me. I hated Sam and her friends at the beginning...and I did not like Sam and certainly not her unchanged friends any better at the end. Did I understand them? I think I do. They are spoiled, mean, amoral kids, allowed to run wild.

I get what the author was trying for, to show us how Sam came to some level of self realization and changed. For me it was too little, too late ...and it took way too long to get there. What does she get..7...8 re-dos, crawling along at a glacial pace? My heavens, is she an idiot as she wanders aimlessly through most of them. Look around girl. You were killed...dead!! You are a mean and cruel person, your friends are mean and cruel, your boyfriend is a total sleaze. Add in parents and adults that are either absent, ineffectual, or nuts, a teacher who should be in jail. And it takes 7 or 8 tries to figure something out?
And the 'there', the ending, was certainly questionable for me. That's it? Really? So what happen to the people there at 'the end'. Let's just say that the person who was 'saved' better watch out a drunken mob doesn't kill her.

Ok, you may have gotten the idea I did not like this book.
But it is more than that.

Is this really what we want young people to be reading? The target audience for this book is grade 9 and up....and I think that is sad. This books is negative and dark, as are, for some reason, many of the Young Adult books I have read. Sex, drugs, alcohol, suicide, bullying...yes, I am not naive enough to not known these things touch young people today. Sadly, that is all too true. Yes, they even touched people my age when I was in high school. Really. But what do we, the adults now, the parents, the teachers, the librarians, the authors, the community, want to do about it? Do we have to wallow in it? Do we have to put it out there, in books and movies and music and TV, as the norm, the ordinary? I am beginning to wonder about the whole idea of YA fiction....

Should reading , like so much popular media, aim for the lowest common denominator. Or should it try to raise us up, make us better, show us endless possibilities, show that the world is a good place that we can make even better, that we, and all those around us, are basically good people, but called to be even better?
Let me suggest it can be done. A book that I think succeeded at this is a book that I loved, I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This. Yes, bad, dark things happen, as they do in Real Life, but ultimately, friendship and love and good people turn a terrible situation around. That is a book I could, in good conscience, give a 9th grader to read.
Before I Fall is not.

Borrowed this book from the Young Adult section of my local library.


  1. I have probably spoken my piece with you on this book, and yes I was one that totally loved it from the bottom of my heart. And I did give it to my daughter to read, because there are serious repercussions for bad behavior in this book, and she got that. It was not glamorized at all, but from our perspective was very distasteful. It made her think (maybe in time to make a difference on her teen years) and it made me think about how I live my life even now! Well, you can't win them all!

  2. you are not, by far, the only one that loved this book. I realize I am in the distinct minority on this one. For the life of me, I can't see that the point is made that there are serious repercussions for bad behavior.
    Maybe no one agrees, but I have to call it as I see it and realize we can't all agree.

    I'm ok with that. :-)

  3. I loved it too, but what I loved most was the message that you need to be better, because you never know when it could be your last day, and not all of us get the chance to do it over!

  4. I think that message, while there, was weakly said, certainly not as well as it might have been. And is was a long, mean road to get there.

  5. It is a sad commentary that this is the type of book out there. It seems there is almost nothing positive or for kids to read these days. How realistic is it to think you can get numerous "do overs". A person hardly even gets a 2nd chance never mind 7 or 8. The same with the movies - it feels like the whole world has gone over to the dark side. Some days I'm glad I'm old.

  6. I've read all those raves too, so my expectations have been really high for this book. You've just tempered them some and I thank you for that.

  7. I think tempered expectations are always good.

  8. I have seen many reviews for this book and read a few. And I've been confused about this book for a while and wondering why so many bloggers love it. Granted I haven't read the book but I pretty much got the idea of the story. I figured for adults it might be entertaining but I wondered the effect it has on the children who read it.
    I think you make some very good points in your review which I liked a lot.

    I'm not sure I'll ever read the book as it doesn't interest me very much. But I am interested in why it's so popular.

  9. I liked this book and thought it had a lot to think about ... but part of me was horrified that this seems to be "the norm" in high schools. I felt a bit prudish after reading it.

  10. Did I miss something...'cause I did not find much to think about? "Don't be a bad, selfish, mean person because it effects others and yourself."
    There! I saved you 450 pages! lol


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