I have had Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver on my To-Read list for years. When I saw that the movie version was being released March 3rd, I knew it was finally time to get to it. Before I Fall is about Samantha Kingston, a senior in high school and one of the four most popular girls in school, along with her friends Lindsay, Ally, and Elody. Samantha is having a pretty good day, but it turns out to be her last day. Strangely enough, she then proceeds to repeat this last day over and over again.
Like the after-death equivalent of Groundhog Day.
As Sam progresses through these days, she begins to wonder if there is a reason for it and if there is anything she can do to change her situation. At the beginning of this book, Sam is just awful. Mean Girl through and through. When her first thought as she is dying is of a girl she and her friends teased for being "fat", this is how she felt about it:
That's just the kind of thing that kids do to each other. It's no big deal. There's always going to be a person laughing and somebody getting laughed at.
Sam's friends are just as bad, or in the case of Lindsay, their ring leader, worse. It is Lindsay who decides who the group hates and, sadly, they unquestioningly follow her. These are the kind of sharks I am afraid my children will encounter when they enter high school. Or worse, that they will be. Sam and her friends know they have power over their peers and they love it. Fortunately, as the story progresses, Sam begins to change. She begins to see other people with a different perspective. She learns more about their individual experiences and understands them more. She is also less likely to blindly follow the group.
I really liked this book and I really enjoyed that it was the kind of book I couldn't wait to read. When it first began, it had a very sour flavor- so mean!- but as I read on, I was relieved by the improvements in Sam. It has been a few years since I was in high school, but much to my surprise, it continues to prove a microcosm of the world. Some people don't really change as they grow up and so it was much more relatable than I expected.
I have marked this as "Required Reading" because I think it could really help bring some perspective to teens who read it. High school feels like the only thing that matters while you are in it. Once you have moved on, it is so much less important. And yet, it is an opportunity to learn, to grow, and hopefully to be kind. This book did contain lots of references to sex (though no actual scenes), alcohol, smoking and drugs so be aware of that if you are sharing it with your teen, but I still think it is a valuable perspective of those formative years.
The only complaint I have is that it didn't end like I would have liked, but the beauty of an imagination is that I can rewrite it any way I would like.
I'll leave you with the movie trailer and this final quote:
Maybe for you there's one thousand tomorrows. or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around in it, let it slide like coins through your fingers. so much time you can waste it.
But for some of us there's only today. And the truth is, you never really know.