Sunday, February 27, 2011

Before I Fall

By Lauren Oliver

Two Things I Liked About Before I Fall:
1. Thinking about appreciation for the simplest and most important things in your life.
2. Butterfly effect.

I didn’t like this book. I thought it was inexpertly and unsubtly written – the themes and morals were heavy-handed to an extreme, holding up signs that read, “Look at me! I’m important and meaningful!” in sloppy black sharpie – and the characters, oh boy. Talk about unsympathetic.

Samantha Kingston is your average* high-school girl: she skates along in her classes, has 3 best friends and a boyfriend she’s crushed on since middle school, overcame her un-cool former self, and spends her weekends at parties with the high-school upper crust. Everyone envies her, her life is perfect**, yadda yadda … And then in one split-second on the ride home from a typical Friday night, her life as she knows it comes to an end – literally. That is, until she wakes up again in the morning. Now Sam has seven chances to relive her last day, to untangle the knot of actions and inactions that led to that last moment, and make sense of a senseless tragedy.

This is one of those books where you’re supposed to grow with the character as they learn what makes life beautiful and how to be a better person. Okay, fine. I often like those books – even love them. The problem is that the whole book aimed to add substance to a character that was by nature substanceless, a collection of stereotypes more than an actual person.

Perhaps you think I am not being fair. Perhaps you’d like more evidence.

Samantha and her best friends Elody and Ally are basically the minions of their ringleader, Lindsey, and are apparently so grateful to have been chosen into popularity that they’ll follow Lindsey’s every whim, no matter how reckless or shallow or even cruel, no questions asked. Samantha’s transgressions range from the (relatively) minor: isolating herself from her family, ignoring the (wonderful) boy who’s been in love with her since the 3rd grade, dating an (decidedly un-wonderful) idiot just because he’s hot and popular, and belittling underclassmen and peers alike; to the contemptible: frequently skipping class, smoking and drinking, and flirting with her math teacher; to the unforgivable: relentlessly tormenting a girl to the point of suicide because of some vendetta Lindsey has against her, without ever questioning why.

The kicker? Samantha closes the prologue with the line, “Is what I did really so much worse than what anybody else does? Is it really so much worse than what you do?”

Well, yes, actually. Yes it is.

Uggghhh. I know I’m supposed to sympathize with these characters – I mean, Samantha’s dead, after all, and via a means I wouldn’t wish on anyone – but they’re just so inherently clichéd and unlikeable that instead of sympathizing I just thought, “You brought this on yourself.”***

* Read: Generically stereotyped popular girl with "Real Thoughts" and "Substance" buried deep down under her cruel and conformist façade.
** Rule #1 of character development: never, ever tell me your character is perfect. Seriously. It will turn your readers against you and undermine every attempt you make to give the character substance later.
*** And she did; misdeeds aside, Samantha’s fatal mistake was being stupid enough to get in a car with a drunk Lindsey at the wheel, who’s a dangerous driver even when she’s sober. I mean, come on. It’s sad, of course, but it wouldn’t have happened if she’d made better choices. I get so mad when people end up throwing their life away for stupid things like underage drinking.

Same Story, Different Review:

Books Read This Year: 18
Top 100 Progress: 38/100

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