Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Essentially Mean Girls meets Groundhog Day, I really loved the premise and the storytelling and, most of all, the characterizations, particularly of Sam and her three best friends. They’re the most popular girls in school and catty bitches (tho once again I wonder at how prevalent this experience is for high schoolers worldwide: the majority of popular kids I know/knew of in real life were all actually really nice.) On the Friday before Valentine’s Day, they get into a car accident that sends Sam into a weird purgatory of reliving this day over and over again till she gets it “right.” Given all the things I loved about it, you’d think I’d rate it highly, but there were two major sticking points for me.

The first and lesser of those is Kent. God, he sounds irritating. I get that he’s supposed to be the “nice guy” who loves Sam for who she “really” is, but Sam is essentially just an insecure teenager desperate to retain her popularity, which is a fairly broad subset of adolescent girlhood, so this makes Kent none special. His quirks are meant to be endearing, but they’re really just annoying (he wears a bowler hat, ffs.) I get that he’s supposed to be flawed, too, but as a character, he treads so closely to the “nice guy” stereotype who’s only nice to you because he wants to get laid (which makes him not much more sympathetic than Rob, honestly) that I found him a very lacklustre hero.

The second major point is a huge plot device having to do with why Sam is stuck reliving that day. When she finally figures out her purpose, I was incredibly underwhelmed. If there’d been a passage where Sam reflects on why she needs to save Juliet specifically in order to move on, I would likely have cared more: as it was, I was just bewildered. I suppose this makes me sound like a Mean Girl myself (was I popular in high school? Honestly, I never even cared,) but Juliet is ridiculously boring compared to Sam, and doesn’t seem worth the effort. I get that this is Sam’s journey, and she has to do it in order to progress, but she never asks why, just considers herself a necessary sacrifice. Which is arguable. I spent way too much of the book really liking Sam and really being bothered that she had to die while boring, dumb Juliet lived. I’m not trying to make light of the real consequences of bullying, but at no point did I feel that Juliet was anything more than a paper thin construct instead of an actual person with feelings and motivations that I cared about. Like Kent, she was more of a stereotype of a person than someone to hang that pivotal role on. More’s the pity, because so many other characters are vivid and sympathetic, and the book overall is beautifully written.

Permanent link to this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.