young adult book review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Before I Fall
Before I Fall is Lauren Oliver's first novel. It will be published March 1, 2010. It's told through the eyes of Samantha (Sam) Kingston, a Connecticut teenager who is part of the popular crowd. I liked the book from the beginning. Sam is an honest narrator who has more depth than she often lets on to her peers. She's a typical teenager with sharp observations, little sense of consequence, an inflated sense of self-importance and a general malaise. I identified with her despite our different social standings in high school. Sam seems acutely aware of the fragility and luck of being popular and somehow senses the lack of difference between her friends and the rest of the school. 

The novel opens with Sam informing the reader she's going to die today. She's trapped in a Groundhog Day world where she wakes up on February 12 every morning. She's able to save herself one day, but still finds herself waking up on February 12. 

I really enjoyed this book while I was reading it. For me, young adult novels often fall into two categories. First are the novels that one day might have been classified as adult novels; they're typically coming of age stories with a teenage narrator, but they're packaged to look like young adult because the genre is booming. Adults often enjoy these novels. Second are the novels that don't move up the age level well. They're often steeped in the present pop culture in such a way they'll be irrelevant or even passe within five years. They're generally fun, flirty and not terribly deep. I enjoyed Before I Fall because Lauren Oliver let her characters dance somewhere between these two categories of young adult literature. Sam and her friends have moments of insight and clarity, but they're also real teenagers with sometimes vapid thoughts (I don't mean to insinuate only teenagers have vapid thoughts; we all do.) 

At the end of the novel, however, I was rather ambivalent about it. I enjoyed reading it, but it's sort of Ground hog Day meets When You Reach Me. I know it's not fair to compare it to When You Reach Me, but it's inevitable. Before I Fall was probably written before When You Reach Me came out, but perhaps because I read When You Reach Me first, it resonated more with me. Before I Fall was absolutely an enjoyable read, but it didn't strike the same emotional chord as When You Reach Me or Gayle Forman's fabulous If I Stay, which was one of my favorite young adult novels of 2009, did. I liked Before I Fall, and I enjoyed Lauren Oliver's writing. It's good, but it lacks a certain sparkle that might make it great. I do, however, highly recommend it for teen readers (the intended audience), and I will absolutely look forward to Lauren Oliver's next novel.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Pages: 471
Release date: March 2, 2010 (pre-order it now from
Source: ARC from the publisher (thank you!)

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