Before I Fall
by Lauren Oliver
What would you do if you could live your last day over again? That is the central question for narrator Samantha Kingston in this stunning first novel aimed at older teens (14-up). She was riding shotgun in the front seat of the Tank—the silver Range Rover that her best friend, Lindsay, was driving when they crashed, fatally wounding Sam. Their friends Ally and Elody were in the back seat, all of them seniors at Thomas Jefferson High in Ridgeview, Conn., where Lindsay reigns as queen bee. Sam takes us step by step through that fateful day: She awakens on February 12, Cupid Day, when popularity manifests itself in the number of roses one receives. Lindsay gets the most, of course. But Sam doesn’t do too badly either. Sam’s boyfriend, Rob Cokran, on whom she has had a crush since sixth grade, gives her a rose (the two plan to have sex that night while his parents are away). Kent McFuller gives a rose to Sam, too. Kent has been infatuated with Sam since they innocently kissed in third grade, and he’s hosting the party that Sam and her friends are departing from when they crash. Then there’s Juliet Sykes, aka “Psycho,” to whom Lindsay has given a rose with a card, “Maybe next year, but probably not,” a cruel joke she’s repeated since their freshman year. Each of these characters plays a part as Sam relives Cupid Day seven times.
Part mystery, part character study, the novel reveals more of Sam each time she relives that day. The first time that she wakes up after the crash to discover it’s February 12 again, she’s in denial. Maybe she’s simply experiencing déjà vu. But after she realizes she really is reliving the same day, she tries different strategies—she tries to change the outcome of the events (convincing her friends to have a sleepover rather than go to Kent’s party); she acts out, believing it will make no difference (she tells Lindsay exactly what she thinks of her, and she makes out with her hot math teacher). In the course of these seven days, she learns more about the roots of the tension between Lindsay and Juliet (“One person shoots up and the other spirals downward”), that there may be more to Kent than she’d given him credit for, and that Rob may not be all that she’d thought he was. She also wonders “if it’s ever really possible to know the truth about someone else.” But here is what she learns: “hope… is the only thing that keeps you alive.” Sam discovers a compassion within herself that she’d paved over somehow. Over these seven days, she grows up, and the intent of her life becomes greater than the outcome. This one will keep your teen turning pages, and keep them thinking long after the cover is closed.