Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
Samantha Kingston, the teenaged narrator of Lauren Oliver’s debut novel, is that girl you hated in high school. She is smart and attractive and popular; she has a hot boyfriend; and she has not one, not two, but three best friends—which would be forgivable, if she weren’t such a snob. The lesser kids in the social hierarchy are beneath her notice, unless she goes out of her way to make fun of them. Sam is superficial and shallow and completely insufferable.
Oh well, nothing like dying to get your priorities straight.
On the way home from a party one Friday night, Sam is killed in a car accident. Instead of heading to the afterlife, Sam wakes up in her own bed on that same Friday morning. She’s been given a second chance to live through the same day. Understandably, she goes out of her way to not die. It works. She goes to bed safe and sound.
…and then wakes up all over again on Friday morning.
It is a plot device very similar to the one from the movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray and also Andie MacDowell, whom I met once, which makes me famous. You take an unpleasant protagonist, make him or her live through the same day over and over and over, and hope that he or she eventually becomes a nicer person. But the movie starring my close friend Andie is a comedy; Before I Fall is a sober read. There are weighty themes here, including sexuality, sacrifice, bullying, eating disorders, friendship and loss, and suicide.
But there are some happy parts that emerge during Sam’s seven trips through the same day. There’s a bit of romance, a bit of laughter and frivolity, and quite a bit of redemption. It’s lovely to watch Sam transform into a sensitive person who cares about someone other than herself. The concept underpinning the story is totally cool, but even though it falls outside the realm of reality, it’s not what you’d normally call a fantasy novel. Instead call it an intense coming-of-age story.
Check the WRL catalog for Before I Fall