Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
Published by HarperCollins
Publish Date: March 2, 2010
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. –(summary from Goodreads)
My Thoughts: This is a classic example of Asheley getting burned by judging a book by its cover. This is a pretty cover. I didn’t care for this book very much. Very simple. Sometimes it happens this way. I accept this.
I read this book super-slowly. I took my time. I thought FOR SURE that as much as I detested this main character – and as much as everyone else liked this book – surely she’d turn herself around. After I finished the book, I thought on it long and hard. I even thought about it while I ran, which is a pretty big deal because that is MY TIME. Still, I can only come up with the conclusion that I just didn’t click with this one.
I love the structure of this story. It felt like reading a version of
Groundhog Day mixed with The Butterfly Effect.*
THIS – the genius of the actual story – is what kept me reading. It wasn’t Sam Kingston. AT ALL. Nope. (You can visualize me shaking my head no as I type the word “nope” because that’s what actually happened.)
To be fair, I will add that I liked the way Lauren Oliver writes, so that is a “Good” too. She has an effortless way to her words and it is nice. It’s easy to read. There is a flow and an elegance that needed to be there for me to balance out the disdain I felt for the majority of the characters in this story. I think that somehow this author is able to be inside the head of this group of young people, at this point in their lives, and it comes across in the words that they say.
1. I did not like Sam Kingston. I did not like her friends either.
Sam Kingston is a mean girl. Like, a REAL mean girl. She is one of the worst kind. She consciously makes the choice to be this way because she thinks it is cool. Because it makes her popular. Because she runs with a small crowd of people that are the exact same way and she is scared – petrified – of losing her popularity status.
Sam Kingston is also a follower. She doesn’t have the guts to stand out among others and stand up to the bullies – so she just becomes one of them. She sees exactly when her actions/the actions of her friends hurt people, and she does absolutely nothing about it. (She considers it a few times, but doesn’t act on it.) She even goes as far as to keep on being mean, watching the torment and agony of the the less-popular and younger people. As she walks away, we get a small glimmer of an afterthought from Sam, but it quickly fades. Because of this, to me: Sam herself is a bully. I cannot stand bullies.
Lots of stories these days are about mean girls and bullies and I don’t go all nutso about it in my blog posts. I don’t call them out as bad characters. So why am I picking on Sam Kingston? Because she gets the chance to redeem herself. SHE GETS THE CHANCE TO REDEEM HERSELF! How many of us would give just about anything to GO BACK IN TIME and redo a certain event in which we’ve said something we shouldn’t, acted inappropriately, been mean to someone, whatever? I shake my head at Sam Kingston. And her awful friends, who are worse than she is. I’m gonna stop there before I get all preachy.
Basically, my feelings for Sam never changed for the positive, and that is unfortunate. I still don’t like her.
I could not see that it had anything to do with the story.
I’m not talking about an undertone of sex. And yet I’m also not talking about the actual having-of-sex. So what, then?
These four girls and a couple of guys talked about having sex the entire way through the book. They talked about it. So much talking. Just like immature high school people. Why is this? Because on the ONE DAY Sam keeps re-living, they talked about it A TON. So as a reader, I kept having to read about it a ton. This is probably not a big deal to most people – I’ll give you that. But like I mentioned earlier, Sam is a weak girl. And her reasoning for everything was, well, weak. Including her reasoning for talking about sex, potentially having sex, everything.
I’m not talking about deciding in general what you want to do or how you feel about this subject and sticking to your guns about it – like Katsa in Graceling or other characters (so no hate mail/comments, please). I’m talking about Sam’s reasons, which she actually openly admits to, which made me do things like face-palm and head-desk and sigh openly. Y’all, I can’t even.
I do not know what to say about this.
The problem with this, for me, is that there was so much of Sam Kingston in this story. Of course there was! It was her one day that we had to read over and over and over. It was her dialogue and inner thoughts that we kept having to read over and over and over. She was the one that kept making the same decisions, or what I would call mistakes at times. She was the one that kept making me cringe with her words and actions. It was her friends, her in-crowd, and her behavior that I loathed so deeply to my core. It was her weakness in everything that I just couldn’t get behind.
I think that this was the reason that this book was such a downer for me and such a great book to everyone else. I have not read the thoughts of anyone else, but it is clear that I am in the vast minority as far as enjoying this one. I had such high hopes for my first Lauren Oliver experience, but sadly this one just fell short (I blame Sam Kingston, not Lauren Oliver).
Will I continue to read this author? Heck yes. I am really excited about reading the Delirium books, but I’m not planning on reading any of them until they’re all out. I’ve heard their cliffhanger status is pretty major with them and I. Do. Not. Like. Cliffhangers. I’m very excited about the rest of her books too. There is a reason she is so widely loved and so widely regarded, and just because I couldn’t get behind this character – well, it doesn’t dampen my excitement to continue reading her work. I just wish I would’ve had a different experience with Before I Fall. I really wanted to like this one more than I did. I tried. I did everything I could: I read it slowly, I thought about it for a long time after I read it. But in the end, I stand behind the way I feel.
If Lauren Oliver set out to write Sam Kingston the way I have portrayed her – mean and weak – which she maybe/possibly did, then she did an amazing and brilliant job of it, because I totally buy into it. I’m not sure if she meant for Sam to have redeemed herself in the end? I’m unsure if Sam actually DID redeem herself in the eyes of other readers? To me, she did not. I’m curious about what everyone else thinks, without spoiling anything.
I recommend this book to fans of standalones, Lauren Oliver, and YA-contemporaries-that-aren’t-quite-contemporary.
The movie Groundhog Day
Romance: slow developing, no triangle
Before I Fallby Lauren Oliver
What did you think?
I think I’m in the minority on this one.
I had a different experience with this book, but some of the same things that bugged you bugged me as well (the sexuality was over the top, in my opinion). Fortunately, for me, Sam did start to redeem herself. Not all the way, now that I think back, but she made a good start. But then that ending…THAT ENDING!!
Back when I read it, I thought pretty highly of it. I'd probably give it a different rating now if I reread it, but I've no plans to go back to it. Once was plenty.
So I kind of agree and disagree here is what I'm trying to say, I think. 🙂
I haven't completely ruled out a re-reading, but if I ever do again, it will be audiobook. I never want to spend time on this print copy again. I just cannot.
I can see where you say Sam started to redeem herself…thinking back, with some of the things she did. But with the ending, I just. I didn't get the resolution I needed to turn the book around for me. Unfortunately it just didn't work and I'm SO BUMMED out about it. I really am.
Aww, I'm sad to see that you didn't like this one. I enjoyed it. I think that in the end Sam could have changed/learned a lesson…but the point kind of was – it was too late. Dreary, I know.
I think I loved the way the days Sam lived over and over again matched the stages of grief. I thought it was interesting that in the end we weren't waiting for Sam to change for everyone else (including the reader), but for her to accept that this was her fate – that she really did need to make peace with herself and die; move on. And that maybe in that last day she was able to reach out, and change just a small part of her mean girl persona…
I don't think it occurred to me that the point by the end was that it was too late…yes, that is dreary. And honestly I wouldn't have minded that if I'd have picked up on that. But I didn't get that. I was so bent up on her DOING SOMETHING. I think I must've read her differently – maybe based on her thoughts or the things she would say? But I get what you're saying.
Also it didn't occur to me at the time about the stages of grief, although looking back now I can see that as well. I just wanted to like this one so badly but didn't. So sad for me.
I read this too and had some of the same feelings – it took me forever to get through the first half because I didn't like it. I didn't care for any of the characters, nor their stories. But about half-way, I got into it. I still don't think Sam redeemed herself, but I liked the … roughness of it – and I do think that's how it was supposed to be. I also liked the ending – I thought it appropriate.
It took me a long time too, Tanya, which is not normal. I just didn't breeze through it or even read it slowly because I WANTED to. And I agree that there is a roughness to it. I like that you mention that you think it as supposed to be that way because it makes me feel a little better. And I'm glad you liked the ending, that makes me feel a little better too.
I've considered doing this as an audio eventually. I need to separate myself from it right now. But I wonder if I hear it, will I feel differently about it?? I imagine you may have possibly read this via audio. I need to check and see if that is the case. I haven't ruled it out yet.
So…. even though you didn't love this one, your review totally makes me want to read it! And you're right, Lauren Oliver writes beautifully, even if you aren't connecting to her characters or world.
That's awesome! I'm so glad you are interested even though I didn't connect with this main character. I loved the concept of the story and the writing. Perhaps if the main character wasn't so very central to the story, I would've found more to love and would've felt differently about it. I'll definitely be picking up something else by Lauren Oliver because I liked her writing a lot. I'm not sure if I want to try something middle grade in the meantime or wait until the trilogy is completed.
This has been on my "I really should read it, but I'm not sure I'll like it" list for a while and I think I'm going to go ahead and remove it entirely. First the whole groundhog day theme has always been a turnoff for me. The idea of reading her day over and over again is not appealing. And I'm pretty certain that I wouldn't like this girl much either.
It sounds like the kind of book that would be GREAT for a discussion and makes you think a lot, but it doesn't make you feel good in the end (I'm not ashamed to admit that I prefer books that are redeeming and make me happy – at least by the time I get to the conclusion). I do think Lauren Oliver is a beautiful writer though! And I love your honest review.
First of all, I totally love Groundhog Day. So, WHAT??? No, I'm kidding.
Honestly, Lauren, this book doesn't scream out like a book that you would love. It just doesn't. I really truly and honestly get the impression from it that you'd have much the same feeling I did if you took the time reading it. However, don't let that deter you from giving it a try one day. You might have a different feeling because I am CLEARLY in the minority after looking at Goodreads (good gracious!!!).
I DO in fact think you are right about the discussion aspect. I wish that I was reading it with someone else because it would have been wonderful to have someone to bounce my thoughts about Sam off of. Because I had a TON and a half of them. And some of these commenters are presenting ideas that I hadn't thought of while I was reading, so discussion could've proven valuable.
This one was NOT redeeming to me and did not make me happy, however. While there is an odd mortal danger aspect to it (she is already dead), her decisions and thoughts are just CRAZY and wonky and weak and NO NO NO from the beginning, at least as far as I think OUR discussion would go. So I'm standing by my recommendation that you probably wouldn't like this one.
I haven't ruled out an audio re-read MUCH later on. I need to forget about this print read, though. I'm getting myself all worked up just replying to comments. So weird for me, I know. That NEVER happens to me.
So sad you didn't like this one. I loved it. It really got to me and made me cry. And Lauren Oliver is a beautiful writer. But I definitely understand your points. The talking about sex incessantly in theee most immature way was completely irritating.
I've seen on Goodreads that I'm one of the odd ones in the way I feel about this one. I did like Oliver's writing, and I want to read more by her. I just hate that this was my first experience with her books because I wanted it to be stellar.
GAH that sex thing. NO. Just, no. GROW UP, Sam Kingston.
I have a signed copy of this book so I plan to read it. I guess we will see how it goes. 🙂
Carrie, honestly, you may really like it. Check Goodreads. I'm an oddball in my thoughts. And it is supercool that you have a signed copy. It has some very cool things about it, I'm just weirded out by the main character.
I hope you like it when you get around to it!
I had the opposite reaction to you-I hated the cover (so creepy to see the eyes staring out at me) but ended up loving the story itself although I didn't LOVE the ending.
It's so funny how we can have such differing reactions to the same story sometimes. I totally judged this one on the cover. It isn't my favorite cover, but I felt like it gave me an impression that I didn't get after reading.
I may have felt differently about the entire book had the ending been different.
I started to get annoyed with the rehashing and the sex talk about feeling like Sam just wasn't getting anywhere…but I think that was the point.
That ultimately Sam was selfish and she made bad choices. The ending gives us a glimpse into the change and that's all we get.
It felt genuine and heartbreaking to me and while it made me mad at Sam, it made me realize that it felt true.
This is a very good comment, Lisa. Perhaps I couldn't get over my anger and annoyance at her long enough to see the story for what it was supposed to be?
I really tried hard to, which is why it took me so long to read it. I just couldn't. I am usually such a great judge at what books I'll love. Oh well.
Glad you got something out of it. Maybe I'll get something different from it on an audio re-read – later.
It's been so long since I've read Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, like 2010. However, I do remember being absolutely in love with it, maybe because for me, I thought Sam seemed real and not sanitized and well, I thought Lauren Oliver didn't half-as* her characterization.
I guess the things you hated just don't push my buttons all that much, but I can see where it would push the buttons of others.
It sucks that you didn't love this, but such is life. You might like Liesl And Po and Delirium much more. 🙂
I'm really excited to read Liesl and Po & Delirium (once the trilogy is completed!). I'm not giving up on Lauren Oliver because there is some good, solid stuff in the book – it just wasn't Sam Kingston IMO.
She did write her well, though. I have to give her that. THAT CHARACTER, she did well.
I think this is definitely one of those books that brings out strong reactions! I personally loved it, but I've recommended it to multiple friends who just could not connect with Sam at all. I'm to glad to have read your (as always!) well-articulated and honest review! And I'm so glad you're continuing to read YA contemporary. Woohoo!! 😉
Thanks Randi! I thought on this one for such a long time, and I read it super slowly. I jogged on it, and thought more on it. And in the end, in a rare instance, I just didn't come to terms with the main character in any likable way. Which kind of broke my heart, but I guess it has to happen sometimes, right? I mentioned some things that I DID like about the book, and I'm still gonna read more L. Oliver stuff, and I may even listen to this book again as an audiobook re-read. I just will have to wait awhile to let my feelings flatten out a little bit. I still am quite annoyed with her!
Yes, that TOTALLY has to happen sometimes! That's how I felt about Hannah in Thirteen Reasons Why & I was in the minority in not liking that book – I just thought she was petty and, while I liked the premise for that book, the character just didn't work for me. So I know what you mean! 🙂 And I really love Lauren Oliver's books, especially the Delirium series. I can't wait until the final book comes out in March! Liesl and Po was good as well and I'm looking forward to reading The Spindlers. It's interesting that her books are all sooo different, so I hope you enjoy some of her others. 🙂
I had a very similar reaction to this book. I really, really despised Sam and her cohorts in the beginning of this book. And for all the reasons you did. The bullying. The cavalier attitude towards the bullying and sex. And yes, she is most definitely a follower and weak and seems to be pretty much ok with that through the first quarter of the book. I will say that by story's end I didn't dislike her AS MUCH, but she was still not a character that I could ever consider loving. I do think she experienced growth as character, however, in that she recognized her wrongs, to an extent. But I am a HEA kind of girl so the ending kind of canceled out the development with Sam. Bottom line: I didn't much care for it either.
Now I did it backwards, I read Delirium FIRST and really enjoyed it. Reading it is what made me want to read Before I Fall, because I LOVED Oliver's writing. I think when you do sit down with that series you'll find it is an entirely different animal.
As always love your honest and heartfelt review:)
Yes, all of this.
We read so similarly, so yes, I think you get entirely what I'm saying. That ending – just, WHAT??? No way. I just couldn't deal with all things "Sam" in this book. The writing style, though, and the structure – LOVED.
Delirium: This is one of the three series I'm not touching until they're completed. Cliffies. No way. I will fall over in fits of allergic rage, or something. I can wait – it's almost done!
I also had a similar reaction, for similar reasons. My then-12 yr old wanted to read it (it was in her 7th gr English teacher's classroom library and she mentioned she was on a waiting list for it). After looking at the synopsis I wasn't sure about it, so I bought it on the Nook and read it first, and then said HELL NO are you reading this book at 12! The attitudes toward sex and the partying and swearing and the mean way they talked about others – well, sorry, there's a lot of that in real life, but I didn't want her thinking that all high school kids are that way!
NO NO NO NO NO. Oh my gracious. I'm having palpitations just reading this comment.
Older kids, gray area. They can think for themselves and you and the kids maybe can talk together. But my girls are almost that age and ohmygoodness NO.
Thankfully I read pretty much everything they read. And it sounds like you're up on what yours is reading too. PHEW.
I totally get what you're saying. I gave the book a 4/5 on Goodreads because of the same reasons that you liked. I loved the format, the style, the writing. I docked it because it made me wade through all the nastiness. I HATED the sex stuff, HATED that not one person came from a functional family, etc.
For me, however, Sam did redeem herself. I actually liked that she didn't straighten up right away. She got a chance to do things over, and on some days she was worse. If she had straightened up immediately, I wouldn't have believed it. But since I knew (thanks to the synopsis) that she had an entire week, I wasn't as worried. Bill Murray did the same thing. He freaked out, gave up, went really bad (remember him knocking off the Brinks truck and trying to seduce the blonde?), and then finally straightened up. I think she pulled it out in the end, so I was okay.
But yeah, nothing I'll read ever again.
Yeah, I felt better when we talked on twitter about this one because I felt like I was the only person in the world that didn't want to shout from the rooftops about it. I LOVED the things I loved about it – really smart writing and smart structurally, genuinely. But the mean girls and cavalier attitudes were just not necessary to the story, to me, and almost shock value. I almost feel like my opinion in this is not along with everyone else's, and that is okay, but I think the story could have had the same depth or maybe more if the girls weren't so MEAN or WEAK.
BUT…this isn't MY story. It's L. Oliver's. And I respect that totally. I haven't ruled out this author. I'm looking forward to the other books she has because I REALLY loved her style and format. I'm just hoping that the same attitudes don't apply to the other stories. I guess I'll see soon, right?
This might sound odd, Asheley, but I'm really glad you didn't like this one. I mean, I'm sad you went through a book you really didn't like, but it makes me feel better about being pretty sure I won't enjoy this one. I don't know, something about Lauren Oliver's YA is just incredibly unappealing to me. I wanted this to be good because of the Groundhog Day/Butterfly Effect thing, but the unlikable characters, non-stop sex talk, and other aspects just have me convinced I'd hate it. So thanks for your review, I now feel certain that I'm not missing out if I ax this one from my TBR.
You know, I sincerely believe this isn't a Heidi book. I can say that with confidence. The Groundhog Day/Butterfly Effect thing is AWESOME, but I told you about it so you know it is there. You would HATE the characters and the things about them. Just don't. Your TBR is too tall. Just trust me on this one. 🙂
In the end, I'm glad I read it, because now I know. And I'm telling you. Not a Heidi book.
I have yet to read a Lauren Oliver book, but I have heard that she writes beautifully, which is always important to me. I'm not too sure how I'm going to feel about Sam, which makes me nervous about picking up this book! I feel like I'm going to be annoyed with her character, just as you are.
You might be, or you might end up loving her. I'm seeing that people tend to be split on how they feel about her and this book, which is okay.
I haven't ruled out a re-read via audiobook because I have a ton of faith in Lauren Oliver. I'm going to wait a while if I do, though. I want to make sure I give Sam a fair chance on the next go-round. Characterization is so important to me, but even if it is off, I can still usually find something qualifying about a book – and in this book there were positives, which I mentioned. It was just this girl – I couldn't get over her!
I loved this book! I have to admit, it started a bit slow for me. However, it picked up quickly & drew me in to the point that I literally didn't want to put it down. The story is beautifully written and the characters are well fleshed out. I highly recommend this to anyone looking for a great read.
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I can't wait to read this book! Keep hearing great things about it!