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Book Review – Before I Fall

Funny how you can know your friends so well, but you still end up playing the same games with them.

I feel like this was the truest statement made throughout the entire book. I feel like it’s true of our main character, Sam. 

Before I Fall is a really strange coming-of-age story that I’m still trying to figure out how to react to. It follows Samantha Kingston, a popular mean girl, as she relives the same day seven times, seven different ways, after dying in a tragic car accident. And as each day comes and goes, Sam realizes that everything she thought she knew, she didn’t know at all.

The biggest complaint I have about this book is the length. It was too long. Way, way, way too long. 

The author, Lauren Oliver, has a very strong set of writing skills. She knows how to craft beautiful imagery, and she knows how to orchestrate words into lyrics. But no matter how beautiful the writing was, it started to get so grating by the end of the book. She’s describing the same scenes from different angles, from a different headspace as Samantha grows, and after awhile I couldn’t handle the long grandiose monologues made up purely of descriptors anymore. On page 400 I didn’t want to read about cones of snow in headlights, I wanted to see how the story was going to end. 

So for that reason, I’m gonna have to say that this book dragged.

I don’t necessarily think we could have done without one of the seven days, even though part of me thinks if they’d chopped one, I would’ve enjoyed it more, but I do think we could have done without all the imagery. It was too thorough. The funny thing is, I think we only read about the afternoon of this recurring day once. You’d think she’d have treated other unnecessary scenes to the same knife. 

She did a pretty good job ridding the dialogue of cliches. Of course, being that this book is almost five hundred pages long, she didn’t avoid them completely, but she did manage to stay well within the margins of unique. The characters were good. Strong relationships that I understood and related to more than I have in awhile. I did have a rough time wading through the scathing self-obsessed opening pages of this book where Sam is nearly intolerable, but other than that, I ended up liking her. She became a hero. She started a villain. That’s always a character arc I’ll respond strongly to. 

The character descriptions were lacking. I had no idea Lindsay was shorter than Sam until like the last fifty pages and it completely changed my perception of her. I could’ve used that big detail two hundred pages sooner, as Lindsay being queen bee made me assume she was this tall, Nordic blonde. I didn’t know Sam was a brunette. And I know the author probably mentioned it once, and I maybe missed it, but that obviously wasn’t enough. I still don’t quite know what Elody and Ally look like. 

But heavens to god do I know what Kent’s house looks like in the dead of night when it’s snowing.

I want to talk about the writing some more. But i’m going to talk about it as if I’m still on page 250 where her words felt like gifts.

She put me there. In this story. She grounded me so well in this world. I felt like I was everywhere with Sam. 

I love writers who incorporate the universe into their prose. You know–they talk about Einstein and stars and relativity and shit like that. I love writers who work with that kind of substance, because it gives the writing a sort of magical, infinitesimal feel. 

I loved to be alone in the woods, especially in late fall when everything is crisp and golden, the leaves the color of fire, and it smells like things turning into earth. 

I’m there. I can smell that smell. I can feel that late afternoon sunlight even without her describing it. I can picture an old weathered fence running along a trickling creek. I can put myself there, in enough of a version of the there she’s describing, in order to truly understand how this character is feeling. And I think, if nothing else in this world can technically be described as magical, that transforming my surroundings for a moment to some distant place and time with only words is truly a stroke of magic. 

I watch three black crows take off simultaneously from a telephone wire and wish I could take off too, move up, up, up, and watch the ground drop away from me the way it does when you’re on an airplane, folding and compressing into itself like an origami figure, until everything is flat and brightly colored–until the whole world is like a drawing of itself. 

GOD. WHY DID YOU HAVE TO TURN THESE WORDS INTO A BURDEN BY SIMPLY WRITING TOO MANY OF THEM?

I begin to wonder if everything in this world, the world I’m stuck in, is just a replica, a cheap imitation of the real thing. 

This line comes from my favorite scene in the book. It occurs on page 261, and it perfectly describes what it feels like to sit in a dark room and stare out on the world as it becomes blanketed in snow. Because it really is so much more than how it sounds. It’s like watching the word “peace” come to life. And “perfection.” And “calm.” And “delicate.”

And of course, the woman handled time like a complete expert. 

This is the moment for time to stop, right here–for space to yawn open and fall away like it does at the lip of a black hole, so that time can do its endless loops and keep us forever going forward into the snow. 

I’m sure you can imagine, without my having to plagiarize her words, how she handled Sam’s big kiss with her special someone I won’t reveal. 

My favorite character was probably Kent. He took shit and he gave shit. You know what I mean? Like he was the perfect example of grounded. Secure in his own skin. He let Sam mow him over, but he held her to it. He expected more of her than others. He didn’t mind her popularity, but he also didn’t allow it to become her. He still held her to the same standards. And he really looked. He really spent the time picking through the many versions of Samantha Kingston until he found the one he loved, and he held onto that piece of her with the kind of faith I wish I could fathom in my own life. He was a beautiful person to read.

The storyline was good, it was plotted well, the pacing was a bit off, but it still worked, and it came together, despite my wanting an alternative ending. 

It carried a lot of great messages. Sort of this big idea that one thing strings into the next, that one decision changes how you decide things forever. That one day can be relived a million times, but some things are already written. Some destinations you can’t get out of this life without hitting. You can only do the best you can, you can only do right by others, and you can only change things so much. Life, the universe, divinity, it’s responsible for the rest.

33/38 

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