Published 3/8/14 by: Kaitlin
“There’s always going to be a person laughing and somebody getting laughed at. It happens every day, in every school, in every town in America – probably in the world, for all I know. the whole point of growing up is learning to stay on the laughing side.” (Oliver, 5)
You’re not going to like Samantha Kingston. Although she’s the protagonist in Lauren Oliver’s thought-provoking young adult novel “Before I Fall”, she’s difficult to root for. Why? Because she’s one of the “top four” most popular girls in her Connecticut high school, and the entire novel takes place on one day: February 12th, also known as “Cupid Day”. While some of you may remember Valentine’s Day in high school as a lonesome celebration that reminded you of how uncool you were, for Samantha Kingston and her BFFs, it’s the day where their peers become painfully aware of their popularity in a very visible way – by how many roses are sent to them. Perhaps you’re having flashbacks to “Mean Girls”, or perhaps you’re already turned off by the setting of this YA novel, but I can tell you this: “Before I Fall” will have you reconsidering most of the moves you made as a teenager, and maybe even some you’ve made as an adult.
On February 12th Samantha Kingston dies. This isn’t a spoiler because you’re made aware of this fact within the first page of the novel. What you soon find out is that Sam has to relive this day seven times, each time becoming more drastically different than the one before. This is where I, as a reader, became fascinated. There have been plenty of films, novels, shorts stories etc. that have tackled this idea of if you could relive one day how would you do it, what mistakes would you continue to make, and why? Lauren Oliver is making her mark on this existentialist’s dilemma by having her female protagonist, Sam, be a selfish, beautiful senior in high school, who continues to not get it right on her second, third, fourth and even fifth attempt at the same 24 hour period of time. This is a protagonist with flaws. Sam, as the narrator, makes the assertion that “Popularity’s a weird thing. You can’t really define it, and it’s not cool to talk about it, but you know it when you see it. Like a lazy eye, or porn.” (Oliver, 17) Sam starts to question everything that she worked towards in terms of popularity, but she still makes lousy decisions time and time again. Some of those choices are a result of her being angry that she’s dead, while some of her choices become increasingly self-destructive and wild because, well, the consequence will never change.
As I plowed through this novel I considered what I was like at seventeen, and whether or not I would push the limits of what I could get away with, if I knew I was dead the next day no matter what. Would I unashamedly kiss the boy I always had a crush on? Would I go for cheap thrills like cheating on a test, skipping class, smoking in the school bathroom, or speeding recklessly? Would I become sentimental and incessantly tell my favorite people how much I love them, just to ensure they know before I am gone? I honestly don’t know. What I do know, is that as a seventeen-year-old I did not face the dilemmas or drama that Sam tackles in her seven tangos with February 12th, which made her moments of clarity and stupidity that much more compelling.
Book Grade: B+by