Thursday, June 24, 2010

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

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?
Samantha Kingston has it all: the world's most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.
Instead, it turns out to be her last.
Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

I’m torn. I absolutely loved parts of this story, and really did not like other parts. So, overall, I’m pretty lukewarm about it. And kind of confused, so there is much I want to explore here.

When I first started reading, I really didn’t like Sam. At all. She is everything I am not, and that I vehemently disagree with. I set this book down three times, reading other books instead. But I kept picking it back up because this is the kind of story that requires a lot of character growth, and the promise of that kept me reading. Still, I had a very hard time with the beginning, and I’m still torn about that.

On the one hand, I can see that Sam’s character needs to be established so that we can see, and truly appreciate, her growth later on. So, I agree that we need to see her so unlikable, otherwise we can’t fully appreciate her growth. I truly believe the beginning needed to be this way...and yet, I still didn’t like it. This is unusual for me. The needs of the story can usually persuade me into overlooking things I might not like, and that just didn’t happen in this case. I think that if she had grown just a little bit quicker, then I might have liked it was difficult to dislike her for so many chapters, and I found myself mumbling ‘come on, grow up already.’

The middle is the best part of the whole book. Sam’s growth is very natural to the story, and very well done. I loved seeing her open her eyes to the world around her, and acknowledging how her actions have reactions. Sometimes severe reactions. When she realizes this, she grows leaps and bounds. I started rooting for her to figure out how to end her predicament, and was glued to the pages.

But then we got to the end, which I completely disagree with. Granted, the last couple paragraphs are powerful and leave you with a contented feeling of finality, but the events leading up to them didn’t fit with the rest of the story.

As with all my book discussions, there are SPOILERS below.

Throughout Sam’s growth, she works very hard to help others, one of them being Juliet Sykes. And Sam is relentless in trying to get Juliet to understand that she can’t give up because her actions will have reactions that can severely affect others. This is one of my favorite parts of the story, and I eagerly anticipated the ending because I wanted to see how Sam would succeed (and I was convinced she would succeed). But then everything fell apart, because Sam was the one who gave up. Everything she says and does on her last day screams that she’s given up. In doing so, she disregards everything she’s learned about actions and reactions.

Again, this is a part of the book where I’m torn, because I do believe the story needed to go in this general direction, and the ending was right for the story--except for the part where Sam gives up. She accepts her fate way too easily and lets herself slide away with no thought to those who love her (one of the arguments she uses on Juliet). If she had fought and struggled and regretted at least a little bit, then the ending would have been far more powerful, even if the end result had been the same.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so torn over a book, and can’t even decide whether or not to recommend it. Some parts are amazing, and other parts really turned me off. It’s not a book I’d want to read again for enjoyment, but it is a book I’d like to think about more with respect to learning the craft of writing.


Nomes said...

Great review. I felt mostly the same as you. I felt kinda sick in my stomach reading some of it, and found some parts to be really compelling reading, and others to drag a bit. I gave it three stars on goodreads :)

The thing is: I think she's an amazing writer, so I'm keen to read more of her work. And I have mates who truly rave about the book , which makes me feel ashamed for my reservations. The content was a bit edgy too, so I havent recommended it to my christian friends ;)

Robby said...

I enjoyed this book. It had a lot of promise, and I really loved Sam by the end. Lauren Oliver is a great new writer.

Tabitha said...

Nomes - I also think she's a good writer, and I'm definitely going to check out her next book, DELIRIUM, when it comes out next year. :)

Robby - glad you liked it! There were parts that I absolutely loved, and I think everything that unfolded in this book was done purposefully (which means she's a good writer). I'm definitely going to keep reading her work.

RaĆ­la said...

This book touched me intensely and then I found myself crying through the epilogue. I cannot wait much to read Delirium. I super-need more from Lauren's writing! lol.

Anonymous said...

The responses to this book are varied, which I don't think is a bad thing. Personally, I loved it. Her character in the beginning didn't bother me at all, but I was prepared for it. And the ending didn't bother me either. I guess the writing was good enough that I got sucked in. Do I wish she'd lived? Yes. But her death makes sense. And I found closure in that last kiss in the romantic dept. I can't say I'd reread it. And when I recommend it I usually do so to other YA writers and I prepare them - You'll either love it or want to put it down. Great review.

Tabitha said...

Raila - glad to hear it! I'm also looking forward to her next book. :)

Laura - I completely agree that varied responses are not a bad thing. I think many books have that kind of response, especially when the subject matter is on the edgier side. Like this book.

For me, if she had still tried to survive, her death would have made sense. But that last scene reminded me of some movies where the character just stands there in the road and a truck is barreling down on them, but they don't move. Those scenes always drove me crazy. :) If Sam had tried to both save Juliet and then tried to save herself but failed, I would have loved this book.

Sherrie Petersen said...

I'm going to have to read this book. But maybe I'll get it from the library instead of buying it...

Christina Farley said...

I have to agree with you Tabitha on your review. In fact I'm reading the book right now! I have a couple of pages left but I guessed from the beginning what the outcome would be which even made it harder to read.

Lauren is a fabulous, brilliant writer. I just fell in love with her words and her imagery.

That said, I'm finding it so hard to get to the end because I really, really don't like Sam. She is everything that I don't like in a person and though I see the importance of her being that kind of person, I just don't like hanging out with people like her and I had to spend lots of time with Sam reading the book.

I think this just made me realize how important it is to have main characters who are likeable yet still with faults.

I too like Nomes at times felt sick (which just goes to show what a brilliant writer Lauren is!) at the kind of person Sam could be and the power she had over people around her. It is an interesting and sad portrayal of teens today.