email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
The Creek"Who Could That Be at This Hour?"100 Things Guys Need to Know3 NBS of Julian Drew3 Willows33 Minutes47A Company of FoolsA Corner Of The UniverseA Crack In The LineA Frog ThingA Great and Terrible BeautyA Monster CallsA Monster CallsA Northern LightA Step From HeavenA Step Toward FallingA Stir of BonesA Walk in the Rain With a BrainA Wish for Wings That WorkAdam Canfield of the SlashAfterAlice MacLeod, Realist at LastAll Rivers Flow to the SeaAll SoulsAll the Bright PlacesAll the WayAll Unquiet ThingsAmerican GirlsAmong the HiddenAmong the ImpostorsAnatomy of a BoyfriendAnatomy of a MisfitAngus, Thongs and Full-Frontal SnoggingAnnie's BabyAnything Could HappenAristotle and Poetic JusticeAristotle and the Secrets of LifeArizona KidArtemis FowlAs Simple as SnowAssessment and Treatment of Childhood Problems, Second EditionAt the End of WordsAway Laughing on a Fast CamelBad Girls ClubBad RatsBang!Beating HeartBeauty QueensBecause of Winn-DixieBefore I DieBefore I FallBetween Mom and JoBeyond MagentaBig Mouth & Ugly GirlBig Rabbit's Bad MoodBlack HelicoptersBlack-eyed SuzieBlind SightBog ChildBoy Kills ManBoy ProofBoysBoys Are DogsBoys, Bears, and a Serious Pair of Hiking BootsBraceBrainstormBrave HeartsBreakfast Served AnytimeBreaking PointBronx MasqueradeBruisesBrushing Mom's HairBrutalBurnCatalystCathy's BookCathy's KeyCaveat EmptorCharlie and the Chocolate FactoryCharlie and the Great Glass ElevatorChild Insanity in England, 1845-1907Children and the Politics of SexualityChildren's RightsCity of CannibalsCity of HalvesClaiming Georgia TateClawsClay's WayConfessions of a Teenage Drama QueenConfessions of an Angry GirlContentious IssuesCoralineCountry Girl, City GirlCrispinCrossesCruise ControlCulture and Conflict in Child and Adolescent Mental HealthCut Both WaysDancing in My NuddypantsDani Bennoni: Long May He LiveDear Zoe,Define NormalDeliriumDeliverance From EvilDestination UnexpectedDirty Little SecretsDiscovering Pig MagicDivaDivergentDoing ItDown the Rabbit HoleDrawing a BlankDuck! Rabbit!Ellison the ElephantEmma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a TreeEmpress of the WorldEscape Under the Forever SkyEvery Exquisite ThingEvery Little Thing in the WorldEverything Is FineEverything on a WaffleFacelessFacts About ADHD ChildrenFade to BlackFade to BlueFaith, Hope, and Ivy JuneFaking NormalFans of the Impossible LifeFeather BoyFile Under: 13 Suspicious IncidentsFinallyFinding H. F.FiregirlFirst CrossingFlashcards of My LifeForbiddenForest of the PygmiesFoxFreak the MightyFreaky Green EyesFree?FreewillFrictionGeektasticGentlemenGeography ClubGeorgeGeorge's Marvelous MedicineGetting Over Garrett DelaneyGhost at the WindowGirl PartsGirls Acting CattyGirls in PantsGirlsourceGLBTQGoing BovineGood GirlsGoodbye RuneGossip GirlGotta Get Some Bish Bash BoshGranny Torrelli Makes SoupGutsHamletHandbook for BoysHappy Halloween, Li'L SantaHarmlessHarry the Hypno-potamusHate ListHear Us Out!HeartbeatHeartbeatHeroHippie ChickHitler's DaughterHonor GirlHootHow to Build a HouseHumanism, What's That?Hurt Go HappyI Am Not Joey PigzaI Donít Want to be CrazyI Need You More Than I Love You and I Love You To BitsI Saw It HappenIf a Tree Falls at Lunch PeriodIf I StayIf We KissIn the Company of CraziesInvincibleIt Happened to NancyIt Was A Dark And Silly NightIt's Me!It's Perfectly NormalIt's Perfectly NormalJacob's LadderJakarta MissingJake RileyJames and the Giant PeachJennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, ElizabethJoey Pigza Loses ControlJoey Pigza Swallowed the KeyJokerJumping Off SwingsJumping the ScratchKeeping the MoonKeeping Your Child in MindKids Gone WildKidYogi - Yoga for ChildrenKim: Empty InsideKiss of Broken GlassKissing in AmericaKissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys)Knocked Out by My Nunga-NungasLast CallLast DecemberLeaping BeautyLemony SnicketLess Than PerfectLiarLittle ChicagoLizard LoveLizard RadioLizzy's Do's and Don'tsLock and KeyLooking for BobowiczLooking for NormalLord of the FliesLoserLove and SexLove That DogLove, AubreyLucy in the SkyLukeís Way of LookingMadappleMade For YouMaking the RunMaking the RunMany StonesMapsMargaux with an XMary Pope Osborne's Tales from the OdysseyMichael Rosen's Sad BookMirrorMaskMolly Moon's Incredible Book of HypnotismMonsterMore Than a LabelMore Than FriendsMore Than FriendsMouse's First ValentineMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy HeartbeatMy One Hundred AdventuresMy Perfect LifeNastybookNo Right TurnNot As Crazy As I SeemNothing But the TruthNothing PinkNow Playing: Stoner & Spaz IIOCDanielOlive My LoveOlive's OceanOliviaOlivia Saves the CircusOn the Bright Side, I'm Now the Girlfriend of a Sex GodOne Hot SecondOut of BoundsOut of the DustPandemoniumPanic at Toad HallPaper TownsPaperweightPatrolPeachesPeriod PiecesPictures of Hollis WoodsPiggyPINSPlanet JanetPlanet PregnancyPlaying a PartPretty Girl-13Prince William, Maximilian Minsky & MePrincess in LovePrincess in the SpotlightPrisoner of Night and FogPrisoners Under GlassProject Sweet LifePsychotherapy with Adolescent Girls and Young WomenPuddlejumpersPunkzillaPurgeRainbow PartyRebuttalRequiemRethinking Gender and Sexuality in ChildhoodRevolting Rhymes & Dirty BeastsRosy Cole's Memoir ExplosionSabrielSaving GraceSay YesScatSchool of FearSee You at Harry'sSexuality in AdolescenceSexyShadows on the WallShatteredShelterShooterSide Effects May VarySilence is GoldfishSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSins of the FathersSix Impossible ThingsSkelligSmackSmall Avalanches and Other StoriesSolitaireSome Assembly RequiredSomeday This Pain Will Be Useful to YouSomeone Like YouSomething About AmericaSong for EloiseSophie Pitt-Turnbull Discovers AmericaSophie Spikey Has a Very Big ProblemSophomore SwitchSplit ScreenStartled by His Furry ShortsStone WaterStory of a GirlStuffSuffer the ChildrenSummer of the SkunksSurviving HitlerSweetheartsSymptoms of Being HumanTalkTargeting AutismTeaseTeen Angst? NaaahTeen TelevisionThat SummerThawThe 10 PM QuestionThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianThe Actual Real Reality of Jennifer JamesThe Amnesia ClinicThe Arctic IncidentThe Artsy Smartsy ClubThe Bear MakersThe Beast of CretaceaThe BFGThe Big BurnThe Book of JudeThe Boy Who Climbed into the MoonThe Boy Who DaredThe Boyfriend ListThe Buffalo TreeThe Carnivorous CarnivalThe Case of the Case of Mistaken IdentityThe Cemetery BoysThe Chosen OneThe Clouds AboveThe Color of AbsenceThe Crazy Things Girls Do for LoveThe Dating GameThe Day Leo Said I Hate You!The DaydreamerThe Diary of a Killer CatThe Diary of Pelly DThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Dream BearerThe Dulcimer Boy The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round ThingsThe EndThe Ersatz ElevatorThe Eternity CubeThe Eyes of van GoghThe Flight of a DoveThe Future of UsThe Geography of GirlhoodThe Geography of You and MeThe Ghost NetworkThe GiantessThe Great BrainThe Grim GrottoThe Heretic's DaughterThe Hookup ArtistThe Horse and His BoyThe Hostile HospitalThe Last Chance TexacoThe Last Time I DiedThe Last Time We Say GoodbyeThe Little TernThe Love Curse of the RumbaughsThe Lucky PlaceThe Memory of LightThe Men They Will BecomeThe Miseducation of Cameron PostThe Mystery of the Third LucretiaThe Naked Truth About SexThe Neil Gaiman Audio CollectionThe Opposite of InvisibleThe Order of the Poison OakThe Outcasts of 19 Schuyler PlaceThe Palace of LaughterThe PanopticonThe Penultimate PerilThe Porcupine of TruthThe PostcardThe Princess DiariesThe Rules of SurvivalThe Same Stuff as StarsThe Sands of TimeThe ScarThe Serious KissThe ShakeressThe Silent BoyThe Silly BookThe Sledding HillThe Slippery SlopeThe Snow SpeaksThe Spider and the BeeThe SpindlersThe StepsThe Story of Frog Belly Rat BoneThe Tail of Emily WindsnapThe Teenage BrainThe Thief LordThe Thing About JellyfishThe Thought that CountsThe Treasure Map of BoysThe TwitsThe UninvitedThe View from SaturdayThe Vile VillageThe Virginity ClubThe WilloughbysThe Wish HouseThe Witch of Blackbird PondThe Witch's BoyThe Wolves in the WallsThe Wolves of AndoverThen Again, Maybe I Won'tThen He Ate My Boy EntrancersThey Broke the Law-You Be the JudgeThings I Have to Tell YouThirstyThirteen Reasons WhyThis Book Is Not Good For YouThis Burns My HeartThis Full HouseTime Stops for No MouseTrue BelieverTrue BelieverTruesightTwenty Boy SummerTwistedUnder Pressure and OverwhelmedUnder the Wolf, Under the DogUnder WildwoodVery Far Away from Anywhere ElseVirgin Sex for GirlsVirgin Sex for GuysWalking on GlassWastelandWatch Me Do YogaWe're Not MonstersWelcome to the ArkWhale TalkWhat Comes AfterWhat HappenedWhat I Saw And How I LiedWhat the Birds SeeWhat Works for Bipolar KidsWhat Would Joey Do?What's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhen Jeff Comes HomeWhen Nothing Matters AnymoreWhen You Reach MeWhere She WentWhere The Kissing Never StopsWho Has What?Why Are You So Sad?WildwoodWill You, Won't You?Witch ChildWith Their EyesWolf on the FoldWonderlandWorlds ApartWurst Case ScenarioYogaYoga 4 TeensYou Hear MeYou Know You Love MeYou Look Different in Real LifeYour Body Is AwesomeZane's TraceZapZazoo
Before I Fall is one of the best novels released in the last year. Although it is classified as a Young Adult book, it quickly transcends that category. It is narrated by Samantha Kingston, a high school senior, and she starts off her story describing a car accident that kills her. Then she tells us about the day that leads up to that accident. Sam is a popular girl, and it soon becomes clear she is also a mean girl. Her best friend is Lindsay, the school's most popular and meanest girl, who is both charismatic and is not only self-centered but also very hurtful to several other girls in the school. We find out about Sam's relationship with her boyfriend Rob -- they have been together for several months and they are planning to have sex for the first time that night. Her other friends Ally and Elody spend the day teasing her about it. They are all preoccupied with how many roses they will receive that day at school, because it is the Cupid Day, which serves to show who the most popular people are, and also who is unpopular. In their most cruel act, the girls continue their tradition of sending a single rose to a girl they hate, Juliet Sykes, just to remind her that she has no friends. That night everyone in the story goes to a party held by a boy that Sam and her friends think of as a freak, and there's plenty of drama as Sam interacts with everyone who is important to her. Coming home from that party, Sam dies in the car crash.
That's just the first chapter. Before going on, I should warn readers that I'll reveal some essential plot details, that I didn't know those plot details before I read the book, and I enjoyed the book all the more for its surprises. So if you haven't read it, and think you might want to, then read no further, and also don't read the Amazon.com reader reviews, which also spoil the surprise. Suffice to say, this is a philosophically rich work that raises questions of character, responsibility, free will, tragedy and love. It is very clever, fast paced, and gripping, despite its length -- about 470 pages or 12.5 hours of unabridged audiobook.
So here come the spoilers. After dying on the Friday night, Sam wakes up again the next morning, very confused about her memory of the day before, only to find that it is Friday again. She goes through the day again, with some differences, getting more and more worried about avoiding getting into a car accident that night, but she finds that her efforts don't work. She dies again. The next morning, she wakes to find it is Friday again. At this stage, she realizes that she is in a Groundhog Day sort of scenario, and she starts to realize she has to take more major steps to avoid the same outcome. But she discovers that simply avoiding the party does not work, because then someone else dies. Sam also starts to realize that what she thought she knew about people is actually all wrong. Through repeating her day and finding out about how different ways of acting in the same situation leads to different results, and how for some things, no matter what she does, people act in the same way.
One of her first realizations is that her boyfriend Rob does not love her and that their relationship lacks something important. She also starts to see how her best friends are inconsiderate and nasty, and that she has radically underestimated other people at school. She talks with some of the people that she formerly dismissed, and discovers she has a lot in common with them. One day, she expresses her anger at her friends and criticizes them to their faces, but it does not go well, so Sam comes to understand that the solution is not to give up on her current friends. They are friends, and there is an explanation for why they are so mean. Sam starts to take a longer view, and to rethink her priorities. She spends some time with her little sister and her parents, and she loves the time they have together. She falls in love with another boy, and has an amazing kiss with him. Before I Fall has more transcendent romance in its little finger than the whole of the latest Nora Roberts.
By the end of the story, Sam has gone through a major personality change, and her friends hardly recognize her. She has looked at her past, realizing how it became so important for her to become popular, and how she was willing to sacrifice other friendships to achieve that. When the most popular girl around, Lindsay, offered her friendship, Sam grabbed it. Sam also finds out much more about Lindsay's past, especially how she was hurt by her parents' divorce. Lindsay is desperate to remain popular, and is terrified by any threats to that, so she will cut down anyone who could hurt her. Lindsay has done most damage to her former friend Juliet Sykes, and Sam realizes that it is Juliet who is crucial to her release. At first her attempts to help and befriend Juliet are clumsy and so are bound to fail. Finally, she works out a way to help, but it comes at great cost.
The unabridged audiobook is read by Sarah Drew who does a great job at keeping the different characters separate, and manages to give some humanity to even the most obnoxious of Sam's friends. It's an impressive performance. In the days I was in the middle of listening to the book, I found my perception of events became changed, and I half thought that the next time I go through an encounter, I'll do it different. Before I Fall argues that it is possible to change what happens, but that it is hard to control all the random factors that impact on the future, so controlling the future is very difficult. The book ends on a slightly mystical note, which doesn't necessarily sit well with the rest of the novel, but it is appropriately climactic.
Before I Fall is a profoundly moral novel that should appeal to not just young readers, but all readers who enjoy stories addressing choice and personality. Highly recommended.
· Before I Fall webpage
· HarperAudio webpage
© 2010 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York