They say ‘live every day as if it’s your last’—but you never actually think it’s going to be. At least I didn’t.
The thing is, you don’t get to know when it happens. You don’t remember to tell your family that you love them or—in my case—remember to say goodbye to them at all.
But what if, like me, you could live your last day over and over again? Could you make it perfect? If your whole life flashed before your eyes, would you have no regrets? Or are there some things you’d want to change…?
Before I Fall begins with the main character, Sam, telling the reader that she is dead. She then proceeds to narrate her final day of life, and the seemingly random events that culminated in her tragic death at the age of seventeen. However, the day that she dies is not Sam’s final day, as she is forced to relive the day over and over again, with no idea why or what is happening. But Lauren Oliver makes it clear that there is something Sam must do, something she must understand, before her endless last day will stop repeating.
Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around it, let it slide like coins through you 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.
Oliver’s novel is beautiful, poignant and utterly captivating. I picked it up for something to fill my day with and just about devoured it in one setting. Sam’s story is one that will stay with you, well beyond the final pages.
(MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!)
Rating: 4 out of 5
Sam’s death and her eventual last day do not just have implications for her own life. Like every death, it affects the lives of everyone around her: from her malicious and bullying best friend Lindsay, to loner and ‘psycho’ Juliet, and the quirky boy-next-door, Kent. Each of these lives is intertwined with Sam’s, and her actions on her successive ‘last’ days have serious implications for these three, as well as many others. To an extent, anyway. It is interesting to read how Sam changes from the start of the book to the end, from her first last day to her final one. Through her death Sam comes to learn so much about herself, her friends and all those who surround her. Yet this knowledge does not go beyond her. It dies with her. Sam learns about love, about truth and kindness, tragedy and forgiveness. And then she dies. For good.
There is no way of knowing if what Sam learnt has an impact. We do not see the effect of the changes she undertakes and the secrets she uncovers. I like to believe that Sam’s journey did leave an impact, that what she learnt and how she acted on her final day meant something to all those who she left behind. That Lindsay perhaps learnt to be kinder, to be less concerned with her image and popularity. That Juliet learnt to be braver, learnt she meant something to other people, even when she couldn’t see it. That Kent (beloved Kent!) learnt about taking chances, and stepping forward from the background. But nothing in the book really suggests that this is what happened, and I found that lack of a concrete effect a bit disappointing.
However, it was the only part of the book I found disappointing. I genuinely enjoyed Before I Fall. I liked the way that it dealt with issues of self-image, popularity, friendships and belonging. I enjoyed the way that Sam was portrayed and the way her character developed throughout the novel. Sam grows from a shallow, socially concerned imitation: your token popular girl. Through mistakes and successes, she not only grows, she comes alive, and it is a beautiful process to see. The knowledge that Sam is, in fact, dead makes the novel even more poignant. By the end of the novel, I really admired Sam’s strength and bravery. She was a fantastic character, and Oliver wrote her development brilliantly.
It amazes me how easy it is for things to change, how easy it is to start off down the same road you always take and wind up somewhere new. Just one false step, one pause, one detour, and you end up with new friends or a bad reputation or a boyfriend or a breakup. It’s never occurred to me before; I’ve never been able to see it. And it makes me feel, weirdly, like maybe all of these different possibilities exist at the same time, like each moment we live has a thousand other moments layered underneath it that look different.
I thought that Before I Falls was a really good book, and it superbly demonstrated to teens the effects of their actions (even those that seem small and insignificant). Every little thing that Sam did over the course of her days had an impact on what occurred, and it was interesting to see how she learnt from both her mistakes and her successes. Overall, Before I Fall was a great book, one that I really enjoyed, and one that I would happily recommend to most teenagers!