What would you do if you could turn back the hands of the clock, unravel all the wrongs and stitch them back together to make them all right, the way they should be? What would you do if you had seven unique chances to relive your last day, the last day to leave your final impression and say goodbye?
This is the main premise of Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall. It’s classified as young adult fiction, but the larger themes of the novel are cross-cutting and adults will find the story equally introspective and heart wrenching. We’ve all lived through our awkward younger selves where we were confident enough to believe the world revolved around us and the peripheral relationships we’ve loosely built and random faces we’ve crossed paths with contained no significance.
To summarize briefly, Samantha Kingston, the novel’s protagonist, is the quintessential high school mean girl. Her and her closely guarded group of friends are popular and privileged, and stand as a force to be reckoned with – a four (young) woman teenage wrecking crew. They’re the girls you love to hate and just want to shake repeatedly and ask, “Why are you the way you are? Why are you so mean?”
While the answers to those questions unfold over the course of the novel for each of them it’s one fateful day in February that Samantha loses everything, including her life. The only thing she is left grasping to while in limbo is seven distinct chances to make things right and rewind time, playing out every single minute of February 12 over and over again. Here’s the book trailer for you visual types:
The story itself is reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day and those choose your own ending books you’ve probably read as a kid (those were the best, weren’t they?). Samantha is a terribly flawed character that, on the surface, you really want to dislike from page 1. She is careless. She is superficial.
Samantha Kingston is you – and she’s me.
Because of that, I’d like to say I’m sorry. Sorry for the things I said and did when I was younger that probably caused others to shrink into themselves, caused them to feel unsure, upset, and that “hate” is an acceptable word to demonstrate your feelings (spoiler: it’s not).
There are a few instances I can recall vividly that I’d want to retract and to erase from memory. I chalk it up to being young and impressionable and yes, even more than an occasional bout of peer pressure. While I like to believe that I have generally been the nice, shy, bookish kind of girl, we’re all flawed.
The impression that Before I Fall has left on me is indelible. I hope I am doing a good job in my adult years of making others feel important and special without any expectation of reciprocity. I hope that the words that spew from my mouth every day (okay, yes, with the frequent f-bomb or other flowery descriptors) are deliberate and thoughtful, and represent my truest self. It’s my hope that I don’t wait until my last day, before I fall, to recognize this.