I do not tend to buy many books for my Kindle unless they are reasonably priced. (Also, may I take this opportunity to say boo, bad Amazon for not paying your taxes and making me dislike you?) I saw this in a post-Christmas book sale for just 99p, however, and decided to go against my laurels and purchase it. I did so mainly because I had seen so many people rave about it on Goodreads early last year when I was still a member, some of my good friends among them. I expected, without having read the blurb, that it would be an amalgamation of The Fault In Our Stars and Jenny Downham’s Before I Die. It was not like either book in the slightest. (Note to self: in future, read the blurb before you purchase anything!)
Before I Fall was nothing at all like what I was expecting it to be. It tells the story of Sam, a seventeen-year-old girl who spends most of her time doing those awfully cliched things that not many teenagers whom I have encountered of late actually seem to do – ‘getting wasted’ and ‘getting high’ among them. In the prologue, she is killed in a car crash. Rather than die however, she wakes up in her bedroom, unscathed, and realises that the accident has not yet occurred. She begins to live the same day over and over again, trying to get it right.
Sam is one of the ‘most popular girls in school’, so I believe that I took an active dislike to her from the very beginning. I really dislike the ‘popular’ kids faction, and even the notion of popularity irks me somewhat. I am far more drawn towards the Dashs and the Lilys, the Holden Caulfields, and the Scouts and Jems of the literary world, than those who feel obnoxious on the page, and frequently go on about how much everyone just adores them when, quite frankly, they have little going for them. Cue Sam, the novel’s protagonist. I was astounded throughout at quite how cruel she was, particularly to those who try to be kind to her. There was no call for her behaviour.
Before I began to read, I glimpsed several of the Amazon reviews. Some – actually, most – people seem to clearly adore this book, but I am in the minority camp. One of the reviewers, Stephanie, said that she has read a lot of young adult fiction which strongly appeals to the adult market too, but that Before I Fall is a young adult novel which is ‘firmly rooted in the young adult market’. It did feel too young at times for anyone over the age of about sixteen to enjoy, and the way in which simple language is used throughout seems to exacerbate rather than diminish this. I doubt I would have enjoyed Oliver’s writing if I were still of the intended age to read it. Any emotional charge which the storyline could have held had been wiped away entirely.
I did not like any of the characters in Before I Fall, until almost at the end of the novel – and those characters whom I did grow to like were relatively minor ones. They were all so superficial, and even though we as readers learnt a lot about them as the story went on, they still felt lacking in depth. A lot of the novel felt like a rip off of ‘Mean Girls’ at times. Because Sam is not a likeable narrator, even when the conclusion is reached, none of the bad things which happened to her struck up any sympathy within me. I had the same problem with a lot of Sarah Dessen’s characters when I read her books as a teenager.
The whole Groundhog-Day, deja-vu element of the plot is quite a clever twist, and it is interesting to see how just one different action can so alter the course of a life, but I really resented a character like Sam being the protagonist of a novel in which we as readers had to spend so much time with her. She began to grate on me from just a little way in, and by the time I had reached the final page, I hoped that I would never encounter such a character again.
I did not abandon this book, as I wanted to see if it improved as it went on. I am glad that I persevered and read it to the end, because at around the halfway point, it did actually get a lot better. Sam stopped being quite so self-centered and irritating. My three star review reflects the poor two-star beginning, and the far better four-star ending.