Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

This last week, I was only able to get through one book. I'm a quick reader, so it was a little disappointing to get through little, given the growing pile of books I want to read right now. Although there are a number of reasons, one of them was that I picked up Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver, on account of Janssen's request.

Weighing in at nearly 500 pages, this is a book that asks for an investment.

Samantha Kingston is a mean girl, and on February 12, she and her clan of chicks who rule the school, will be celebrating Cupid's Day. The school lets students purchase flowers for one another that get delivered in the classroom, and the flowers are a status symbol (does this not sound exactly like a scene in Mean Girls?). More than just that, this is the day Sam will lose her virginity to her long-time boyfriend Rob.

It just so happens that this Cupid's Day, there's also a big party at Kent's house, where anyone who is anyone will be (even though Kent himself isn't all that popular). But of course, it'll be more than just the popular girls who'll be there: Juliet Sykes will make an appearance, and she's the girl who not only Sam and her clan hate, but she hates them back with just as much fire.

Everything lines up for an unforgettable night. And that's when the accident happens.

...and Sam gets to relive February 12 yet again.

Before I Fall is what you would expect if you combined the social aspects of Mean Girls with the storyline of Groundhog Day. Mix in a little bit of the after-death and ability to interact post-death of Amy Huntley's The Everafter, and you'd have a good idea of what this book is and attempts to do. It is a very lengthy book that asks readers to invest in long chapters that chronicle the span of one day in Sam's life. At the end of each day, we know something is inevitably going to happen and that Sam will get to relive it again.

I didn't find this book to move much. I thought that the pacing was quite slow, given the premise and the storyline. I never found myself believing in the mean girl aspect, as I never understood what made Sam and her friends mean girls. Juliet certainly didn't like them, but they never gave me a real reason to believe in them. Sam never gave me anything to hold on to nor anything to make me want to either hate her or pull for her. They stole a parking spot from someone and ditched class, and they said mean things about other people amongst themselves, but that seems like what happens to high schoolers. It didn't stand out as identifying this subset of people "mean girls." Perhaps I'm still convinced they're not mean girls unless they're written like the ones in Some Girls Are.

The reliving aspect of this story didn't push the story forward very well. It seemed to get tangled in on itself, and quite frankly, there were a number of times I got confused when reading. And the ending was completely confusing to me as a reader, as it didn't seem to jive or make sense as to why things had to end the way they did. I think this all goes back to not having enough character development to reign in reader sympathy or understanding.

Although the premise was a construction of many others, I thought it was original enough to stand on its own. Oliver is a good writer, and I think this is a good debut that promises she'll strengthen her writing in the future. I think that this book asks a lot of its readers -- you have to buy into the premise (even the blatant rip off of the flower idea from Mean Girls) and you have to give the book nearly 500 pages to come to a conclusion. I didn't find the conclusion satisfactory, but many might find it works. It's quite possible along the way and the week long reading the book required I missed a detail here or there, but that in itself might be problematic.

That said, I still think on a scale of 1-5, this one lands as a 3 for me. It wasn't a favorite, but it was just different enough to stay a little memorable. It's a dead girl story without being a dead girl story, and the fluid writing it something that stands out. Sure, it's slow and lengthy and the characters don't always work, but there will be readers who absolutely eat this up. This is the kind of book you can read when you're reading another one, too, and still know where you are when you pick it up again. Fans of The Everafter or mean girls inspired books that aren't as gritty as Courtney Summers's titles will enjoy this book.

Before I Fall debuts today from Harper Teen.

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