email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""Who Could That Be at This Hour?"3 Willows4th of July99 DaysA Beautiful MindA Change in AltitudeA Corner Of The UniverseA Falling KnifeA Frog ThingA Great and Terrible BeautyA People's History of ChristianityA Question of BloodA Slight Trick of the MindA Step Toward FallingA Thousand Miles from NowhereA Tragic Kind of WonderfulA Voyage Long and StrangeA Wedding in December Abraham LincolnAcross the River and Into the TreesADHD NationAfter DarkAgainst EmpathyAgainst Medical AdviceAll the Bright PlacesAll the Way HomeAll Unquiet ThingsAlphavilleAlways Forever MaybeAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAmerica AmericaAmong the DepartedAn EducationAn Object of BeautyAnatomy of a MisfitAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAsymmetryBad BoyBad RatsBarbara the Slut and Other PeopleBeach RoadBeat the ReaperBeauty QueensBed of RosesBefore I DieBefore I FallBefore the FrostBig BrotherBiteBlack Elk SpeaksBlameBleed for MeBlonde FaithBlood, Salt, WaterBody SurfingBog ChildBoneMan's DaughtersBoomsdayBorder CrossingBorn Standing UpBoys Are DogsBoys Will Put You on a Pedestal (So They Can Look Up Your Skirt)Brava, ValentineBreak Through PainBreathingBridge of SighsBrief Interviews with Hideous MenBring Them HomeBrutalBy BloodC StreetCalm Beneath the WavesCanadaCellCemetery DanceChange Your Brain, Change Your LifeCheeverCinnamon KissCleopatraClose Your EyesCompulsionCountryCross CountryCyborgasmDakotaDancing at the Shame PromDarkest FearDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDead EvenDead Little Mean GirlDear Zoe,Death Without TenureDeceptionDefending JacobDefine NormalDeliriumDevil in the DetailsDiscovering Pig MagicDisturbing GroundDivergentDivine JusticeDivisaderoDoing ItDon't Wake UpDown the Rabbit HoleDr. Andrew Weil's Mindbody ToolkitDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDriftlessEven Dogs in the WildEvery Exquisite ThingEvery Little Thing in the WorldEye ContactFaith, Hope, and Ivy JuneFaking NormalFalling ManFamily and Other CatastrophesFamily FirstFans of the Impossible LifeFear of the DarkFellsideField of BloodFile Under: 13 Suspicious IncidentsFiregirlFlat Lake in WinterForest of the PygmiesFortunate SonFraudFreak the MightyFree RefillsFull Steam Ahead!Furiously HappyGenerosityGenomeGetting a Good Night's SleepGetting the Love You Want Audio CompanionGiftedGirl in TranslationGod Is DeadGod Is Not OneGods and BeastsGoing BovineGood and GoneGranny Torrelli Makes SoupGraysonHappy FamilyHappy Mutant Baby PillsHarmlessHe's Just Not That Into YouHealthy AgingHeartbeatHeftHigh HeatHolidays on IceHot MilkHotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel WorldHotels of North AmericaHow a Gunman Says GoodbyeHow Full Is Your Bucket?How Successful People ThinkHow to Build a HouseHow to See Yourself As You Really AreHow to Set a Fire and WhyHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurt Go HappyHypnography for MenHypnography for WomenI Am I Am I AmI Am Not Joey PigzaI Can See YouI Drink for a ReasonI Feel Bad About My NeckI'd Know You AnywhereI'm Traveling AloneIdiot AmericaIf a Tree Falls at Lunch PeriodIf I StayIf You StayImagine Me GoneIn ZanesvilleInfinite JestInheritanceInnocentInside the O'BriensInvincibleInvisibleIt Takes OneJennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, ElizabethJust LifeKeeping LucyKiss of Broken GlassKissing Ted Callahan (And Other Guys)Knife CreekLeaping BeautyLie to MeLies My Girlfriend Told MeLife After LifeLife InterruptedLife of PiLife StrategiesLisey's StoryLitLittle Black LiesLittle ScarletLive For Your Listening PleasureLiving Your DreamLong Shadow of Small GhostsLooking for BobowiczLosers BracketLost in the ForestLove Is a Mix TapeLove Times ThreeLove, AubreyLowboyMadappleMade for LoveMade For YouMagical ThinkingMagnificenceMaliceMan in the WoodsMarlenaMeditation in a New York MinuteMeetings with a Remarkable ManMiddlesexMind MappingMindfulness for BeginnersMirrorMaskMischlingMissing PresumedMolly Moon's Incredible Book of HypnotismMommies Who DrinkMunich AirportMy AbandonmentMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Name Is RedMy One Hundred AdventuresMy Sister's KeeperName All the AnimalsNelson Mandela's Favorite African FolktalesNemesisNever Let Me GoNew York 2140Night FilmNina: AdolescenceNinety DaysNone of the AboveNot a Crime to Be PoorNothingNurtureShockObjects of My AffectionOdd Child OutOh My GothOlive's OceanOn Chesil BeachOne Flew Over The Cuckoo's NestOutliersOutside Looking InPaint It BlackPanicParadise LodgeParanoiaPeace Is Every BreathPeople Who Eat DarknessPharmakonPictures of Hollis WoodsPictures of YouPilgrim at Tinker CreekPlaying with FirePlease Stop Laughing at UsPositivityPresumed InnocentPretty Girl-13Prisoner of Night and FogPuddlejumpersPunkzillaPutneyRacing the DevilReady for AnythingRebuttalReleaseRequiemRescueRevolutionary RoadRoomRun for Your LifeSay You're SorryScatSchool of FearSearching for Sylvie LeeSeason to TasteSecrets of a Passionate MarriageSee How SmallSeeds of HopeSex and SpiritSide Effects May VarySilencedSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSinlessSix Impossible ThingsSkelligSleeping BeautySleepyheadSnowSo Brave, Young and HandsomeSolitaireSomeday This Pain Will Be Useful to YouSourlandSquirrel Seeks ChipmunkStill in LoveStill MissingStory of a GirlStress ReliefSupreme CourtshipSurviving OpheliaSwimming to ElbaSworn to SilenceSycamoreSymptoms of Being HumanTeaseTeaseTell the Truth, Shame the DevilTen Minutes to RelaxTestimonyThat Old Cape MagicThe DrifterThe Abortionist's DaughterThe AccidentalThe Accidental BillionairesThe AdultsThe Almost MoonThe Anatomy of HopeThe ArrangementThe Art of ChoosingThe Art of Exceptional LivingThe Artist of DisappearanceThe Average American MarriageThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe Beat Goes OnThe Best AwfulThe Big LoveThe Boat RockerThe Book of JoeThe Book of LiesThe Book of the DeadThe Bookshop on the ShoreThe Boy at the KeyholeThe Boy Who DaredThe Boyfriend ListThe Brass VerdictThe Breakout PrincipleThe Burden of ProofThe Case for GodThe Case of the Case of Mistaken IdentityThe Cemetery BoysThe ChemistThe Chosen OneThe ClosersThe Consciousness PlagueThe Conspiracy ClubThe Cuckoo's CallingThe Dangerous Art of Blending InThe Day I Ate Whatever I WantedThe Dead Fathers ClubThe Death of Bunny MunroThe Devotion of Suspect XThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Diviner's TaleThe DollmakerThe Dressmaker of Khair KhanaThe Dutch HouseThe Dynamite RoomThe Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round ThingsThe EndThe End of Our StoryThe Erotic EdgeThe Essential KamasutraThe Family GeneThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry AugustThe Forgotten GirlsThe Fortunate OnesThe Geography of You and MeThe Gift of an Ordinary DayThe Gingerbread GirlThe Girl in 6EThe Girl in the GardenThe Girl on Mill StreetThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's NestThe Girl Who Played with FireThe Girl with the Dragon TattooThe Grief of OthersThe Grim GrottoThe Guise of AnotherThe Guy Not TakenThe Heart of YogaThe Hearts of MenThe Heretic's DaughterThe Ice QueenThe Ice TwinsThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe InseparablesThe InterestingsThe Keeper of Lost CausesThe Keeper of Lost ThingsThe Kings of LondonThe Language God TalksThe Language of SecretsThe Language Of YogaThe Last ChildThe Last MileThe Last Time We Say GoodbyeThe Male BrainThe Man from BeijingThe Man in My BasementThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Map of True PlacesThe Marriage PlotThe Memory Book The Mermaids SingingThe Ministry of Special CasesThe MuralistThe Museum of InnocenceThe Mystery of the Third LucretiaThe Myth of LazinessThe NarrowsThe Necessary Death of Lewis WinterThe New YorkersThe NewleywedsThe NixThe NursesThe Only Girl in the WorldThe Opposite of InvisibleThe Other Side of the StoryThe Outcasts of 19 Schuyler PlaceThe Particular Sadness of Lemon CakeThe PastThe Penultimate PerilThe Perfect GirlThe PostcardThe Pregnant WidowThe Promise of a LieThe PyramidThe Qi Healing KitThe Quiet RoomThe ReaderThe Republican BrainThe Rest of the StoryThe Royal Baths MurderThe Rule of FourThe Rules of SurvivalThe Savage CityThe ScarecrowThe Second GirlThe Secret Life of BeesThe Secret of Lost ThingsThe Secret ScriptureThe Secret SpeechThe Secret Wisdom of the EarthThe ShallowsThe SharkThe Shock of the FallThe Silent BoyThe SisterThe Song of the Jade LilyThe Sound of Broken GlassThe SpindlersThe Stillwater GirlsThe Story HourThe Story of Beautiful GirlThe Sudden Arrival of ViolenceThe Summer ChildrenThe Survival ListThe Survivors ClubThe Sweet Relief of Missing ChildrenThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieThe Tail of Emily WindsnapThe Tenth JusticeThe Thing About JellyfishThe Third AngelThe TouristThe Treasure Map of BoysThe Trouble with Goats and SheepThe Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector ChopraThe Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia MossThe UnquietThe Unseen WorldThe VegetarianThe View from SaturdayThe WaveThe Weed That Strings the Hangman's BagThe Weight of the NationThe Whiz Mob and the Grenadine KidThe Whole TruthThe WilloughbysThe Witch ElmThe Witch's BoyThe Wolves of AndoverThe Words We Live ByThe Wrong Side of GoodbyeThe Year of the FloodThe Year That FollowsThe Yin Yoga KitThings You Didnt SeeThirteen Reasons WhyThis Beautiful LifeThis Body of DeathThis Book Is Not Good For YouThis Full HouseThis Is HowThose GirlsThose Who Wish Me DeadTony & SusanToo CloseToo Much HappinessTooth and NailTouchTransformation TriburbiaTrue BelieverTrue CompassTrust ExerciseTruth & BeautyTwinmakerTwistedTwo Can PlayTwo Little Girls in BlueUnaccustomed EarthUnder Rose-Tainted SkiesUnder the HarrowUnder the InfluenceUnder WildwoodUniversal HarvesterUnlessUnthinkingUp in the AirVacuum in the DarkVery ValentineVisits from The Drowned GirlVoid MoonWaiting for SunriseWalkingWarWatching the DarkWays to Die in GlasgowWe Are OkayWhat the Dog SawWhen My Heart Joins the ThousandWhen We Were AnimalsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhen You Reach MeWhere She WentWherever You Go, There You AreWhite HotWild AwakeWild ChildWildwoodWill They Ever Trust Us Again?Wolf in White VanWomen's Murder Club Box SetYoga SanctuaryYou Know Me WellYou Look Different in Real LifeYou Should Have KnownYou Will Know Me
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