High School HighwayToday's Tune:
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is, for better or worse, a wonderful addition to the Young Adult section. It's not perfect, (few books ever are), but it does many things, and it does them well.
Sam, the protagonist of this novel, dies in the opening. She then spends seven days reliving her last day over and over, and the character growth she experiences in one week is pretty astounding. Sam is a popular girl -- one of the four senior girls who rule her school -- and she's, as another character puts it, a bitch. She's not a nice person.
But she is human. Believable. Real. And in just one week, she goes from being a pretty unsympathetic, Bratty McBrattyBrat character to one the reader can really root for and get behind. This is a difficult balance to maintain, especially as a new author, but Oliver does it incredibly well. Read and take notes on how to make a flawed anti-hero of a character into someone your audience can get behind.
The story itself is balanced very well. It's hard to write the same day over and over again without it becoming repetitive and boring, but Oliver (mostly) manages. There are a few scenes that drag a little, but overall the pacing of this story is superb. The blend of contemporary with a hint of the paranormal is well-balanced enough to make this interesting and different than your typical Mean Girl Learns the Error of Her Ways story, but not edging into This is Too Weird territory.
Other characters are handled with the same care as the protagonist. I'm having trouble thinking of a character that came off as flat to me. Each character I came across had a background, a personality, a motivation. I felt a little bit overloaded with names at the beginning, but I eventually hit the stride of the novel and could remember who was who. Difficult themes like death and suicide are treated well here. I especially appreciated the treatment of suicide, which didn't allow for an easy solution. There is no "quick fix" for a suicidal person. You can't just tell them not to do it or change one thing about their day to make everything okay. It's so much deeper than that.
Overall, Before I Fall is an example of a good teenage voice, sharp prose, great pacing, believable character growth, and just the right touch of speculative and dark. I recommend it as an excellent example of YA genre fiction. If you are the sort of person who worries about content, this book contains swearing, sexuality, and drug/alcohol references and use. And, of course, teenage death.