Lauren Oliver's debut novel, Before I Fall, is the second Teen First Look Book Club at Barnes and Noble Book Clubs. Our protagonist, Sam, is a typical teen - a senior, popular, pretty, she has the boyfriend everyone wants - but when she dies in a car accident she relives her Last Day...over and over...February 12th...over and over. Sounds a little Groundhog Day, no?
Well, not really. The concept at its very basic is the same - relive the same day until the protagonist figures out the problem - but that's it. Sam has the ability to change events during her Last Day but she has to learn which event must be altered or she's going to die and wake up on February 12 forever. Sam must evaluate her own beliefs and behavior regarding bullying, teen sex, and substance abuse before she can make a change for the better (any more info and I'm going to ruin the plot for you). Lauren Oliver gives Sam such a wonderful voice - Sam is young, she doubts herself, but she isn't a character rooted in the popular vernacular; Sam is able to bridge both the YA and adult audience for the simple reason that she could easily be the teen next door, not a walking MTV commercial.
Because Sam is so real, she can make us feel uncomfortable. I've read a lot of reviews/opinions on the Before I Fall discussion forum where people state they don't like Sam at the beginning of the novel and it's true that, even though she's not a horrible person, she isn't easy to love. She's stuck up, joins in mercilessly teasing a classmate, is materialistic and shallow...and she could very well have been many of us in high school. I have to admit - even though I was popular-by-association because I was on the dance team with the A-list popular girls I was still a nerdy band geek. What would I have given to have the right clothes, a good-looking boyfriend, to get invited to the right parties? For the first few years of high school I was more than happy to toddle along behind the "cool" girls on the squad and imitate them as best I could; we were never as cruel to classmates as Sam's crowd is but we were definitely on the snotty side (and I wound up dating a senior boy who scared me - and he wasn't very cute - and going to a party no fifteen-year-old has any business being at). But I didn't make the squad for my junior year and I (painfully) realized that there was more to life than your rung on the high-school social ladder. I hung out with my band and drama friends more that year and really had fun at the drama parties where we sang "Time-Warp" at the top of our lungs...sober. When I made the dance team again for my senior year I had the confidence to be my own person, less likely to covet the popular crowd (even though I still wanted those designer jeans). Sam doesn't get a few years, though, she only gets a day to get it right in the end.
While Sam's behavior can make us squirm with self-identification, it also made me cheer her on all the more when she pieces together the information she needs to solve the February 12 cycle. There is a tremendous gain in maturity and I thank Lauren for giving Sam the emotional growth necessary for that. The young adult genre can really benefit from a book like Before I Fall because it focuses on the realities of teen behavior and the consequences that can result. Before I Fall went on sale yesterday (March 2, 2010) so go out and buy, buy, buy!
Current book-in-progress: The Poisonwood Bible
Current knitted item: Alexis's baby sweater (almost done with the sleeves)
Current movie obsession: Criminal Minds Season 4
Current iTunes loop: Filmspotting