Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Before I Fall (Lauren Oliver)


I just finished listening to Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall on audio.  When I first began the book, I was tempted to stop it.  The characters came across arrogant, superficial, and immoral.  All qualities I hate to see in anyone, but especially as models for teens.  Because of the countless rave review I have encountered over the past couple years on the book (and because I enjoyed one of her other books, Delirium), I plunged forward.   I am glad I did. 

Plot:  Oliver takes the familiar “groundhog day” plot, but she makes it feel fresh.  Seventeen year old Sam keeps living the day of her death over and over for a total of 7 days.  The first few days she is only interested in finding a way out.  She is also still stuck in her immaturity, prejudices, and shallow teen self.  With each effort to make a significant change, Sam slowly sees the day (and much of her life) through a 360 degree lens.   The multi-layered plot has a steady pace that kept me wanting to come back to hear more.

Characterization:  At the opening of the book, I disliked all the characters.  I grew to like Sam and the others. Even the fiercest character, Lindsey, earned my sympathy. They each illustrated in different ways that people are much more than they seem. The popular people are often some of the most broken, always looking to cover up their hurts, habits, and failings. Sam, also, learns how her actions impact others, often in unexpected and devastating ways. The circumstances, I hope, will prompt young adults to consider their choices more carefully.

Motifs: There are so many great motifs.   First, the story focuses on the bullying of one innocent classmate, Julia.  As she lives out each day, Sam feels the weight of her group’s actions toward this particular peer as well as a few others.  The message about the impact of bullying is real and relevant.  Next, I love how Sam begins to appreciate the people and the world around her.  Unfortunately, she only has a short time to revel in it, but readers will definitely be challenged to “love deeper” and “speak sweeter.” Finally,  illusions play a significant role. Sam lives in an illusion—until that fateful day of her death. She struggles at first to see others and herself for what they are in reality.  As she peels back the onion layers of that day and her life, she gains a greater understanding of herself and those around her.

Language: I love Oliver’s often lyrical and beautiful use of language and metaphor.  Her dialogue comes across genuine and realistic.  The one aspect I did not enjoy is the frequent cursing.  Two of the most common words—sh*t and b**chare used more excessively than I prefer, especially for young people. Yes, I know that many do curse—and do it often—and most people cuss on occasion.  For many, this issue will not bother them.  To me, cursing is the crutch of those who lack imagination and/or vocabulary to express themselves another way.  For these teen characters, it is likely the case. 

Sexual Situations:  I was especially saddened by Sam’s initial desire to have sex for the first time with a boy she had mediocre feelings with to “get it over with.”  Fortunately, this attitude does eventually mature.  Also, Sam is flirty with one of her teachers.  On the day she decides to “live it up” since everything will be reset the next day anyway, she becomes sexually aggressive with the instructor, leading to some intense physical contact.  This scenario is a HUGE pet peeve of mine in young adult fiction.  Fortunately, Sam becomes repulsed by the event in retrospect.  With each fictional or real occurrence of the inappropriate teacher-student relationship, I feel it becomes less shocking and, slowly, becomes seen less and less as immoral or wrong—which I believe is a sad commentary on our times.  Overall, the girls approach sex is playful and fun. They are described draping themselves all over guys who appear to have little respect for them.  One of their favorite sayings is “No glove.  No love.”  If they are going to have sex, I appreciate that they at least advocated condom use.  Like many contemporary youth fictions, the seriousness of sex as an extension of maturity and commitment and love is completely absent.

After finishing the book, I believe it was likely the author's purpose to begin with the superficial, popular "mean girls" and turn the stereotype upside down--which she did accomplish.  I recommend Before I Fall for ages 15 and up.  

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this book from the very beginning! I felt like the characters were easy to relate to, and the interesting plot kept me wanting to read more! I loved the writing style and can't wait to check out more by Lauren Oliver! Would definitely recommend this book!

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