Thursday, March 3, 2011
"Before I Fall" by Lauren Oliver
Musings: Before I Fall is a mash-up of Mean Girls and Groundhog Day that, despite treading no new ground, still manages to be compelling. In fact, the greatest strength of Oliver's writing is that even though the book falls into well-trod characters (the alpha-popular girl; the bullied loner) and themes (popularity isn't what's most important; be yourself!), the characters still feel full-bodied and important to the reader.
The narrator is Sam (i.e. Cady from Mean Girls, once she's popular) a girl who, when the book starts, is a total bitch, just like her friends (notably Lindsay, a.k.a. Mean Girl's Regina George). Of course, being popular, she and her friends don't actively recognize how cruel they are. However, I liked that the girls aren't only defined by their cruelty. They're also honest to goodness best friends, supportive and devoted to one another.
As Sam begins reliving one day of her life, she predictably begins to notice her many faults, recognize what's truly important, and become a better person. But this standard narrative is also broken up by many mishaps and well-intentioned but hurtful mistakes.
The new love interest, the adorable Kent, is probably too perfect (I said the same thing about Alex, the love interest in Oliver's Delirium--darn you, Oliver, for giving us perfect guys who will never exist), but I can never resist a pining relationship, and it was sweet to see their relationship begin several times over. Nonetheless, it's not the romantic relationships, but the complicated female friendships that really form the center of the book. (double darn, I said almost the same thing about Delirium too!)
I know this is a book that my 14-year-old female students would love, and I enjoyed it too, despite the overly-exaggerated emphasis on popularity (I know I never looked gaga-eyed at seniors when I was a freshman, though I didn't talk to them either). The ending may hint to easier solutions than the real world can provide, but it's also an ending that relies on hope, which I can't criticize.