About Me

Here at the Watauga County Public Library we like to read books (weird, right?). As it turns out, we also like to talk about books. And you, O internet wanderer, are our lucky audience! Here's the deal: We read books. We write up what we thought about them. You read the review. You comment. If it looks good (it probably will, our judgment is impeccable), you read the book yourself, and let us know what you thought!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver

This book, as I keep telling people when I'm trying to rouse interest, is like a combination of Groundhog Day and Mean Girls. This comparison hasn't garnered quite the level of excitement I'd hoped, but it's accurate, so I'm sticking with it. Samantha (Sam) Kingston is in a car accident, and instead of waking up in a hospital room or atop a cloud, she wakes up at home, poised to relive the same day over again. Throughout the different takes of this same day, she makes some realizations about her life and the decisions she makes, slowly understanding that her clique of friends might not be all they were cracked up to be.

It's got all the elements that a classic YA teenage girl drama book should have: popular kids, the outcast who has been estranged and belittled by the popular kids, cutting class, eating lunch in the bathroom all by yourself, the cute-but-thick boy the main character is dating, the weird boy the character should be dating, etc.

The thing that makes this book better than Groundhog Day and Mean Girls combined (and I'm a pretty decent Bill Murray fan, so that's saying something), and waaaaay better than any sort of teenage chick lit (sorry, Meg Cabot) is the strength of the prose that narrates Sam's introspection as she deals with the consequences of her decisions. It's just so smart. None of the characters are flat. It doesn't paint the popular girls Sam is originally friends with as beautiful soulless princesses, and the girl whose life they spend a lot of time trying to ruin doesn't come off as an innocent victim. In the face of her own death, Sam continually recognizes the small parts of everyone, both good and bad, that make us worthwhile human beings, which is a pretty difficult thing for anyone to grasp, even when we're not facing death.

As a preview:

"It amazes me how easy it is for things to change, how easy it is to start off down the same road you always take and wind up somewhere new. Just one false step, one pause, one detour, and you end up with new friends or a bad reputation or a boyfriend or a breakup. It's never occurred to me before; I've never been able to see it. And it makes me feel, weirdly, like maybe all of these possibilities exist at the same time, like each moment we live has a thousand other moments layered underneath it that look different... I wonder if it's ever possible to know the truth about someone else, or if the best we can do is just stumble into each other, heads down, hoping to avoid collision...I wonder how many people are clutching secrets like little fists, like rocks sitting in the pits of their stomachs. All of them, maybe."

It's this deeply honest assessment of the people around her that propels her through this day so many times, and keeps the reader turning pages madly. We struggle with her, as she searches for her footing, and, when she finally finds it in what winds up to be a pretty daring conclusion, we sigh with agony and relief along with her.

This was much more than the teenage drama it seems to be on the surface. It is a complex story about the meaning of life and death and the subtle significance of all the tiny parts in between. It's about being human, so, if you are one of those, you should probably like it.