The last book I read was so bad, I decided to cheat and skip ahead of finishing The Wisdom of Whores and Norwegian Wood and read my reward book: Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver. Being an avid YA novel reader, I was excited to read this book after seeing many glowing reviews on the blogs I read. Better than that, I wasn't disappointed! This book is really excellent, and its 470 pages flew by.
The story is essentially Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls: Samantha Kingston, an attractive member of the in clique, re-lives the day of her death seven times. As the days go by and she makes different choices, she learns more and more about her family, her friends, her boyfriend, her enemies, and, most importantly, herself.
There's a lot to like about Before I Fall. Not only is it very well-written (Oliver's descriptions are vivid without becoming over-wrought or space-devouring), the characters are beautifully drawn. Even (especially?) the mean ones: Sam and her friends. One weakness of many YA novels is that they're told from the perspective of the unpopular kids, the outsiders, and the cool kids are rendered in a stereotypical, two-dimensional fashion. Oliver doesn't fall prey to this; even Lindsay, the queen of mean, is depicted sympathetically. While a lot of reviewers found it grating as a result of their high school experiences, I found it a breath of fresh air-- more than likely as a result of mine (Confession: I was one of the mean kids in high school).
There are a lot of reasons for why otherwise decent teenagers go mean, and Oliver explores them without getting preachy or sentimental. Lindsay, Ally, Elody, and Sam are easy to hate, sure: they're shallow, self-absorbed, and gratuitously cruel to anyone who doesn't meet their exacting standards. At the same time, though, they have endearing qualities and obviously care deeply about one another. The way Sam grows and changes as her last day/week goes by is incredibly moving.
I also really loved the ending.
I give this book 4.5 stars. I can't wait to read Oliver's next book, Deliriium, which will be out in February.