What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?Review -"Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls" - it's not a description that really grabbed me and as such I wasn't one of the readers clamouring to get my hands on this book. Then two bloggers (of whom I trust implicitly) recommended that I read it. So I did. Now I feel that people's attempts to pigeon hole it have done Lauren Oliver a bit of a disservice. Sure, it sums up the concept in five nifty words but it doesn't come near to describing what this story is really all about. I can do it in one word - redemption.
Samantha Kingston has it all—looks, popularity, the perfect boyfriend. Friday, February 12th should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it’s her last. The catch: Samantha still wakes up the next morning. In fact, she re-lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she had ever imagined.
Before I Fall has been labeled with adjectives such as 'amazing', 'groundbreaking' and 'flawless'. I agree with the sentiment and that it is affecting but I choose to err on the dark side of hype. It is a wonderful debut with a fantastic premise, solid characterisation, some delightfully wicked dialogue and some beautifully moving moments. The pacing is a treat, I whipped through it a frightening speed and the writing supports the truly intriguing concept. Too often, I have read a book with a flashy concept and finish reading it feeling slightly soiled. Before I Fall has both a concept and delivery that well...delivers.
The word to describe this book would be - integrity. Oliver has depicted a high school and a clique within it with great empathy but humour as well. She didn't shy away from the nastiness that is high school girl culture but also gave these girls a heart. They might be messed up, cruel creatures but they do have loyalty and love for one another. It's this authentic characterisation, that applies to all characters, that really makes this book great.
The plot is an interesting one to discuss and in the interest of not providing spoilers there isn't much to say. Anytime someone involves time manipulation in their work there are going to be issues, whether time travel or day repetition. The conclusion of each of the day became a little harder to swallow as the days progressed, the transitions didn't really work for me in the latter part of the story. That being said, it is not a major complaint. Sam evolves (and at times, plateaus) in a seamless manner. It happens naturally that you can necessarily pinpoint an a-ha moment which shows how well Oliver has written this. Her writing does not draw attention to itself and allows the reader to emotionally attach themselves to this initially unsympathetic character.
Before I Fall is a substantial read that demonstrates Oliver's capacity to find the heart in her characters. She's tackled a complex idea and made it easy to track on emotional and structural fronts (which is a feat unto itself) while drawing to a conclusion that is satisfying, real and heartfelt.
I am exceptionally curious to see where Oliver takes us on her next literary journey. Colour me impressed (but not pole-axed).
Published: March 2010
Format: Hardcover, 470 pages
Source of review copy: gift from friend