Friday, November 19, 2010

What We're Reading: An Affecting Teen Title

I like books that open with a good line. Lauren Oliver opens Before I Fall with:

They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that’s not how it happened for me.

So—from the get-go, we know our protagonist is dead—or do we? It’s Friday, February 12—Cupid Day at Thomas Jefferson High, the day when your popularity is definitively decided by the number of roses you receive from beaus, friends, and secret admirers. It’s also party night at Kent McFuller’s, and Samantha Kingston and her BFFs Lindsay, Elody and Ally are headed out for an evening that may include a significant event between Sam and her boyfriend, Rob. But what Sam doesn’t know is that this is going to be her last day.

The catch is, it’s a last day that will be repeated…and repeated…and repeated. Sound like a certain movie starring Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog? (oh, and Bill Murray too…) The idea is not a new one, but the execution of it is engaging. As she awakens again and again to discover it is still February 12, Sam’s feelings ricochet from anger to recklessness to apathy, to the idea that maybe if she gets something right this time, it will be over—but the problem with that idea is, though she would feel a certain amount of relief, also it would be OVER. And during what turns out to be seven repetitions of February 12, Sam finds out things about herself, her friends, and people with whom she didn’t even know she had a connection that overwhelm, frighten, enlighten, and thrill her.

For some reason the past few years have seen many books about teens and the afterlife, from The Lovely Bones to Elsewhere, from Everlost to The Sledding Hill, to If I Stay and Before I Fall. I guess the teen years are those in which we question everything about everything—the beliefs of our family, friends and culture--to discover where our beliefs fit into the picture. Before I Fall is a lovely, introspective examination of one day—THE one day—in the life of Samantha Kingston.

This is Lauren Oliver’s first published novel; her new novel, Delirium, comes out in January. Both have been optioned for films by Fox!

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