02 June 2011

Book Review: Before I Fall

Title: Before I Fall
Author: Lauren Oliver
Publisher/Year: HarperCollins / 2010
Date Finished: 19 May 2011
Source/Format:  Not sure / Print

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid


The Short and Sweet of It
Sam Kingston leaves a party with her friends, Elody, Lindsay, and Ally. Minutes later, she dies. Then she wakes up in her bed and the day starts all over again. Over and over, Sam relives the last day of her life in this thoughtful and thought provoking novel.

A Bit of a Ramble
I must admit that it took me quite a while to get into this book. I hated Sam. She is pretty much a spoiled, snotty bitch, and I felt no sympathy for her whatsoever. She, along with her three best friends, torture their classmates, suffer from serious narcissistic personality disorders, and in general walk around with god complexes. My hatred of girls like this does not stem from any sort of bullying I experienced: I was a cheerleading captain, president of the National Honor Society and the Spanish Club, pretty well off with the boys, and in general a relatively well liked girl in school. I had friends and parties and styling clothes and cool hair and blah blah blah. But never, and I mean never, did I insult, ignore, or injure anyone else (at least not in the bullying sort of way). And neither did anyone I knew.

By the end, I had stopped hating Sam, but I must admit that I still didn't really like her. The lack of character required to treat people as horrendously as she did is something that I just can't stomach, and while she was clearly "learning" to be a better person through her Groundhog Day experience, I do not feel this excuses or justifies past behavior. What can I say? I am a real hardass about treating other people with compassion and respect.

Even though I disliked Sam, I was completely engrossed in her story, and I did not want to put the book down. Each day offered opportunities for reflection, and while I wouldn't call the book particularly action-packed, it was extremely thoughtful and well-paced. When the story revolves around a repeat of the same day, the author must take care to convey enough similarity between the days to stay true to the premise, but also insert enough difference to keep the reader entertained. Oliver did a great job with this! If you have not yet read this one, I highly recommend picking it up!

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Question: What are books where you really didn't like the protagonist but still liked the book?

20 comments:

  1. I've got this one on my TBR but haven't gotten around to it...sounds like a good one for a lazy day in the swing :)

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  2. I just finished Something Blue by Emily Giffin and it took me a really long time to actually like the main character. She was just so snotty but eventually had a change of heart and was a little more tolerable.

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  3. The buzz around this book has been so awesome that I can't imagine not reading it. It's our choice for next month's book club read, and I can't wait to get to it. Though I am sure that I will hate the characters too, I have heard that the story is too compelling not to be engrossed in. Great and honest review. I loved it!

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  4. I didn't like Sam either, but I did feel like I original saw her one way and came to understand her and her friends another way by the end of the book, and not just through the groundhog experience. I felt like in a way, Oliver was telling ME not to judge these people by the way they looked on the surface on that first day, you know?

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  5. Sam was not a very likable character,especially not in the beginning. It didn't stop me from relishing this book though. I can't wait to read Delirium!

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  6. Sounds like an interesting read, thanks for the great review.

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  7. I wasn't the hugest fan of this one... Sam was so irritating, though she did get better. I just thought the whole ending was totally unnecessary, that there could have been another way to fix things. Meh.

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  8. I loved the way Sam "grew" during the seven days. So I did like Sam. But now that I know that YOU had cool hair (and I never did), I don't know...

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  9. I agree with your review here entirely, and in fact offered some similar observations when I reviewed it a few months back.
    As a reader I have no issue with "unlikeable" protagonists, as long as writers craft them dimensionally and with a purpose. Tom McGuane and T.C. Boyle and Margaret Atwood immediately spring to mind: three contemporary authors whose novels I find thought-provoking and engaging but who do not always depend upon empathetic main characters to buoy their books. And once I start considering "classic" literature, unsympathetic protagonists abound...
    As a teacher, it's one of my primary tasks to help students get beyond the "liked it/hated it", "liked the protagonist/didn't like the protagonist" mindset when they interact with narrative, which isn't always easy in our consumeristic culture.

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  10. Woo! If you couldn't put the book down AND she was a snotty bitch, it must've been pretty well written. I admire that. I wanted to knock out all the snotty bitches in Freedom! :D

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  11. I totally agree about Sam never being totally redeemed, and that ended up being one of my favorite things about this book. Solid review, per usual!

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  12. I really enjoyed the whole YA-spin on Groundhog's Day aspect of Before I Fall, and I ended up quite enjoying the book (even if Sam would have been super mean to me in high school).

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  13. Oooh, I'm pretty bad about finishing books with heroines I loathe. Sometimes it pays off in the end, like Scarlett Thomas' Our Tragic Universe but more often than not, I just give up on the book!

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  14. I agree with you that she was pretty unlikable and experienced some growth but still. It was an interesting concept though and I liked how the author handled it.

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  15. Great review! I agree about Sam, but unlike you, I sadly never really came around to liking her. Her selfishness annoyed me to no end. And because I didn't like her, I had a hard time liking this book because it was about her.

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  16. I recently read Priceless by Nicole Richie, and I really, really hated the main character. Like, she was just a terribly annoying person. I really hated most of the characters in the book. But I HAD to finish it, even if reading it just annoyed me!

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  17. Sam grew on me a lot more than she did on you, I think, but I thought this book was really well done as well.

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  18. Hmm, I don't think I'll like Sam at all, either. I'm looking forward to reading this one eventually, but I'm glad I have a bit of a warning regarding the protagonist.

    As for other books I've liked even though I didn't love the main character, Shantaram comes to mind immediately. I didn't trust the narrator one bit, nor did I care for him especially. Still, the story was enthralling, and the reader (I listened to it on audio) was phenomenal.

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  19. I have heard that the story is too compelling not to be engrossed in. Great and honest review. I loved it!

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  20. http://lorxiebookreviews.blogspot.com/2012/05/before-i-fall-by-lauren-oliver.html just finished reading this book, i love your review :)

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