For the 2023 Popsugar Reading Challenge, I needed a book that takes place all in one day. I’ve read a few of these before and really enjoyed them, and as I browsed the lists of suggestions, I found Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (Harper Collins, 2010). I had always wanted to get to this in the past and just never did, so I was glad to have an excuse to finally read it. And it’s really well done, with a main character who is so Regina George from Mean Girls that I couldn’t put the book down.
Samantha Kingston is pretty, uber-popular, and one of the Queen Bees of the school, and she and her friends won’t let anyone forget what that means. She’s dating one of the most popular athletes in the school (even if a nagging sense of doubt keeps telling her he’s maybe not the best choice for her), she and her friends skip classes with abandon, and they treat their families and fellow classmates with all the disdain they deserve. Life is good when you’re on top, right?
But life is about to be cut short. A terrible accident takes place after a late-night party…and Samantha finds herself reliving the same day over and over again. It’s up to her to finally get this last day right, but that’s going to take some time. Samantha hasn’t exactly been a model in terms of behavior and how to treat people…
This was really good, and despite the overarching sadness (and horror at what an awful person Samantha started off as) of knowing the inevitable outcome, a really great and fulfilling read. Sam really starts off terrible. She’s awful to her parents, her little sister, the nerdy guy with a crush on her, teachers, everyone at school whom she considers lesser than her (and that’s a LOT of people)…pretty much everyone outside her friend group (and, uh, they’re not great either). The constant repeats of her last day range from ‘she tried and failed’ to ‘burn it all down,’ including one *really* uncomfortable scene with her male math teacher. (YIKES.)
Lauren Oliver does a remarkable job of keeping the reader turning pages for a character who starts out so very unlikeable. Samantha’s redemption arc unfolds slowly; this is a lengthy book, but each day, despite being the same, ends up with a slightly different feel to it, and Sam’s growth, lethargic as it is, is intriguing to watch. The inevitable ending is sad, of course; the reader goes into the book knowing the final conclusion, so there’s no shock there, but it’s still tough to read (and it did leave me with a few questions: how will Sam’s friends and family reconcile the last-day version of her with the person she’s been all the rest of her life, for instance), yet it’s cathartic.
I’m glad I finally got around to this. Samantha Kingston isn’t a character I’ll forget anytime soon.
Visit Lauren Oliver’s website here.