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Cannonball Read III - Summer Reads: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

By Even Stevens | Books | August 3, 2011 |

By Even Stevens | Books | August 3, 2011 |

We meet Samantha Kingston on February 12th: Cupid Day, in which everyone exchanges roses at school - the total amount being the marker of how popular someone is. Sam is 17 years old, a senior, and seems to have the perfect life. She and her best friends Lindsay, Ally, and Elody rule the student body, Sam is one of the most popular girls in her school, and she is planning to lose her virginity to her boyfriend Rob later tonight. Sam and her friends attend a party, leave after having too much to drink, and end up in an accident that takes Sam’s life. But instead of dying, Sam wakes up to find herself in her own bed - and it’s February 12th again. Sam relives this day a total of seven times (each chapter of the book is devoted to one day) and must figure out how to break the time loop and regain her normal existence.

Make no mistake, Sam is a mean girl. She and her friends do what they want and take what they want from others, and are often cruel and manipulative in their methods. There is no thought on their part about the consequences their actions have on other people. Upon her introduction, I really don’t like Sam, and I don’t think I’m meant to. Sam is more of a passive bully - she mostly goes along with whatever her friends cook up, but in the end she still does participate, desperate to keep her popularity and not be viewed as a “loser”. As Sam begins reliving the same day over and over again, though, she begins to change and forms a plan to right some of her wrongs and try to truly help someone who needs it.

This book could be described as Mean Girls meets Groundhog Day, the concepts are certainly similar, but I also don’t want to detract from Oliver’s fantastic writing by pigeon-holing her. Oliver writes a great character in Sam, someone I’m sure many of us recognize from our own high school experience. Oliver is able to bring depth to Sam, and to some extent, her best friend Lindsay as well, and show that people are capable of change. However, even though Sam is trying to fix the things she’s done wrong, Oliver is very skilled at showing that you can’t just throw an “I’m sorry” at a problem and have it fixed immediately; some things take time and sometimes a day just isn’t enough.

I also really like how she approaches the issues of reliving the same day over and over again, both in Sam’s reactions - which range from denial to anger to acting with zeal and reckless abandon - and in how she treats the bigger questions. Are you happy with the person you are? Do you regret the choices you’ve made? In Sam’s words - will you be remembered well or just remembered? Oliver is incredibly descriptive and it’s fun to see how details change each day, some very small, some monumental. Oliver is also able to build up a great deal of suspense as to how Sam’s story will end. This story is so many things; at times it’s funny and sweet, other times it’s infuriating, and often it’s poignant and sad and unflinchingly honest. This book was original and well written and completely engaging; I can’t recommend it enough.

For more of Even Stevens’ reviews, check out the CBR-III blog.

This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here. For more Summer Reads suggestions, click here.