Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
I’ve read this book a dozen times over the past ten years — it was released in 2010. It’s not so much that it gets better with age so much as that you can read it in different layers. It’s timeless because of its questions of morality, meaning, the balance between the nuances of daily life and the bigger picture. It’s perfectly proportioned, a mix of giddiness and heaviness. Textured, sensory scenes that draw you in and evoke specific atmospheres; characters that are flawed and nuanced and endearing; a sense of urgency in coming-of-age; wisps of poignant commentary.
I’d recommend it to anyone in its recommended age group — a young adult audience — but it’s a book containing the freedom and situations that I’ve experienced more in college. An overwhelming sense of having the world unfurling in front of you but not knowing how to feel or what to do. An accuracy of crossroads.
One of the reasons why Before I Fall is so effective is that it doesn’t tell you how to feel. It raises questions and doesn’t have committed solutions. It’s just one way of navigating. Oliver’s writing is gorgeous and her pacing is stunning.
It’s not a “beautiful people have dark secrets” exposé, as is so common nowadays. It’s a “lucky people have complex questions" one. It’s stark about the reasons the girls in it lead easy lives, and the reasons others don’t, but it’s not abrasive about it. It doesn’t romanticize it either, but interrogates the choices and chances that led to the events of the book. It all feels really human.
It’s fundamentally an excellent mixture of nostalgia and the blunt force of having to grow up really quickly — capturing that pinnacle moment of realizing that you’ll never be able to go back to certain ignorances that you had in childhood.
Novel: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver | Goodreads
Release Date: October 25, 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.
““Here's one of the things I learned that morning: if you cross a line and nothing happens, the line loses meaning. It's like that old riddle about a tree falling in a forest, and whether it makes a sound if there's no one around to hear it.
You keep drawing a line farther and farther away, crossing it every time. That's how people end up stepping off the edge of the earth. You'd be surprised at how easy it is to bust out of orbit, to spin out to a place where no one can touch you. To lose yourself--to get lost.
Or maybe you wouldn't be surprised. Maybe some of you already know.
To those people, I can only say: I'm sorry.”
It’s refreshing that it’s both a life and death narrative in the sense that she’s trying to figure out how to save someone and herself, but it’s also life and death in the sense that she’s parsing through a lot of questions about whether or not she’s supposed to exist in the way that she does, and whether it’s possible to go back to a day before any of it ever happened.
Before I Fall is one of those books that I take a pen to and end up marking up the whole page because I love it so much, a book that’s more highlight than plain text. Lauren Oliver picks out the most glorious details, a marvel of attention.
The friendships are unconditional and variant. Sam can critique the actions of her friends without demonizing them, recognizing the things they don’t speak about as well as all the small details and histories that she loves.
Sam adjusts her philosophies and grows a lot, but she remains fundamentally the same person. It’s not like she enters the book a mean girl and exits it completely kind and selfless. That character development felt so genuine and affecting.
“That's the way I feel, at least: like there's a real me and a reflection of me, and I have no way of telling which is which.”
Sam also appreciates a lot of small beauties and changes, which is partly why I like her so much. The little things, the bits of color and setting that stack up and make her awestruck by the ordinary.
The structure of the book — fanned out over seven days, a number that’s never fully explained — lends itself well to the specific rhythms of each day. The cycles of each day and the ripple effects that have thematic implications. It also gives so much credibility to the established relationships that form the core of this book. So much backstory, so many overlapping worries and joys. Every detail feels curated.
“How is it possible, I think, to change so much and not be able to change anything at all?”
“I've never really thought about it before, but it's a miracle how many kinds of light there are in the world, how many skies: the pale brightness of spring, when it feels like the hole world's blushing; the lush, bright boldness of a July noon; purple storm skies and a green queasiness just before lightning strikes and crazy multicolored sunsets that look like someone's acid trip.”
Have you read it? What did you think?