Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is probably one of the best young adult novels I have ever read.
I should qualify this statement by saying that I am very versed in the young adult genre. I’ve enjoyed reading young adult novels since high school, and even though I am really no longer a young adult by any standards, I still find novels geared at teenagers to be quick and enjoyable reads. For the most part, I’ve mainly encountered young adult novels that are light, airy and fun, but there have been those novels every now and then that blew me out of the water with how provocative they were (How To Love by Katie Cotugno, OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu and Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld immediately come to mind, but there are many others of course).
Before I Fall has to be one of the hardest hitting young adult novels I’ve ever read, if not the hardest. One thing I have to say is that I was supremely lucky in that I was never bullied in high school. I wasn’t exactly popular and didn’t go to all the crazy parties, mainly because I was studious and more academically inclined, but I had a lot of acquaintances and many friends, several of whom I’ve held onto in my adulthood. I was also most certainly not a “mean girl”, and I never bullied anyone else, so I knew that Before I Fall would fascinate me because it would allow me to get into the head of the type of girl I never was in high school. And, I have to say, what I liked best about the novel was how vivid Sam’s first-person narration was. I truly felt as though I was inhabiting her mind and watching it process everything she was going through in real-time, and I think Oliver mastered Sam’s voice and made it very distinct and unique.
What was most breathtaking (and mostly in the sense of leaving the reader shocked) was how detailed Oliver’s descriptions of the actions of Sam and her friends was. Oliver picks apart every nuance of their “mean girl” personalities, and she provides the reader with just enough of a backstory for each of them to pull at the reader’s heartstrings. These characters left me very conflicted, and that was mainly because I knew so much about their troubled family and home lives, and could see firsthand how insecure and uncertain each of them were. Although it would’ve been easy, as a reader observing from an outside perspective, to hate Ally, Elody and especially Lindsay, it was hard to do so because I was so absorbed in Sam’s mind and her feelings for her three best friends seemed to stem from such a genuine place. I should explain – while I am absolutely not the type of person who could be best friends with a girl like Lindsay who would spread rumours about other students and ridicule them to the point of dangerous consequences, I somewhat began to understand why Sam was so close to her and loved her so dearly. Many of Lindsay’s actions are disgusting and reprehensible, but we are also given these wonderful descriptions of the moments when her and Sam are bonding like two average 17 year old girls, and it’s almost heartbreaking because it’s impossible to blame Sam for loving her best friend. She has grown up with her, and although she realizes throughout her journey in the novel that Lindsay is flawed beyond measure, she still can’t shake this connection to her. It’s sad in so many ways, but it’s also uplifting to watch Sam try to help Lindsay become a better person. I wish Sam had done more of that in the novel, but I also enjoyed watching Sam rediscover herself, and I don’t think I would change the moments of Sam’s internal healing for more moments of her with her friends in the end.
The main reason I picked up Before I Fall is that I saw the trailer for the soon to be released movie adaptation. It reminded me in many ways, probably due to the premise, of the film If I Stay, based on the novel of the same name. I didn’t get a chance to read If I Stay before seeing the movie, which I enjoyed very much, and I didn’t want to miss out on reading Before I Fall. When I found the book in the 40% Off Bestsellers section at my local supermarket, I mean, I couldn’t resist. I am very happy that I picked it up because I believe it is a book that undoubtedly needs to be read by as many young adults as possible. Hopefully more people who have read it, and those who see the movie, will spread the word because the approach Oliver takes to tackling the subject of bullying is extremely valuable in our day and age. There are far too many teenagers out there who are lost and crippled by self-consciousness and anxiety, and Oliver’s novel not only offers glimpses into the lives of these individuals, but also delves deeply into the thought process of the people who ostracize them. It really made me sick in many parts to read what Sam and her friends do to their fellow students, and it quite frankly shocked me to think that these are things that happen in schools everywhere. It’s simply revolting and it needs to stop, and I think that literature has the capacity to change society if enough people pay attention to and learn from it. There is much to be learned from Before I Fall and I would maybe even go so far as to say that it should be included as mandatory reading in grade 9 English classes.
The best word to describe Before I Fall, I think, would be haunting. It really does get under your skin, and you start to feel for the characters in ways you never expected. I highly recommend it to any young adults, and to parents of young adults, for that matter – there is so much to learn from the story!
❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart