Book Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Before I Fall
by Lauren Oliver
Goodreads | Amazon
Series: no
Published: October 25th 2010
Rating: A heart full of love

Before I Fall is the story of seventeen-year-old popular “mean girl” Samantha who starts living a single day over and over again.  I have probably read this book a dozen times. 

I bought it right away when it came out in 2010 and it has been a firm favorite of mine ever since.  

This is not only a great book it is also an important one.  I have probably given this book to more students over the years than any other.  The underlying message that every choice we make counts and that it is never too late to do the right thing is pretty essential to pick up on when you are in middle or high school.  I love YA but often with a few adjustments most YA novels could be adult novels.  Before I Fall is intrinsically YA. 

The plot and characterization all depend on being seventeen years old.

One thing that this book did extremely well is analyzed and use the constantly shifting power structures that develop in middle and high school. Popularity, athletic talent, and even things like humor become social currency and unfortunately, their worlds have a tendency to devolved sharply between the haves and the have-nots. Samantha, having been a have not, is constantly aware of this and this awareness drives her actions.

The characterization in this book is amazing.  Each character has depth.  Lauren Oliver does almost the impossible with Sam and wrote a thoroughly unlikeable girl with no interest in books who I grew to love.  This is both impressive and important because it is the reader’s identification and empathy for Sam that really makes this book stand apart from others.  I don’t know how she did it. I should have hated Sam.  Sam is every petty, shallow, and cruel girl that we all either were or knew in high school.  She is a personification of everything that makes a teenager awful.  And yet she is so much more.  She has the potential for change, forgiveness, depth and sensitivity.  She reminds us that we are all more than the sum of our surface parts.  She reminds us that all too often we are limited by ourselves. 

She reminds us that we all deserve a second chance.

This book definitely makes you think about yourself and the choices that you make. It also made me think about myself as a teenager.  I was never mean but I don’t know it that was because I had moral fortitude or simply because I was far too busy trying to be invisible. I guess like everyone else, I could have been a better person.

There is a sensitivity to the writing.  The story and the world are both incredibly nuanced.  Details matter.  Minor character matter.  Small choices cause huge changes. Everyone has their own story even if it isn’t fully explored in the book.  In the end, this book is heartbreaking but not without hope. 

If you are a fan of YA and somehow haven’t read this novel yet I enthusiastically recommend reading Before I Fall.

The Movie:

I haven’t seen the movie yet.  I am super excited about it.  Lauren Oliver wrote the screenplay herself (Is that true? I thought I read that somewhere but now I have to google it) and there has been a ton of good buzz.   I would have liked to go this weekend but we couldn’t find a showing in English.  This is what happens when you decided to move to China and I have a strict policy of only watching movies with their original voices.  Dubbing is evil. I guess I will have to wait.

From Goodreads:

With this stunning debut novel, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver emerged as one of today's foremost authors of young adult fiction. Like Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why and Gayle Forman's If I StayBefore I Fall raises thought-provoking questions about love, death, and how one person's life can affect so many others.

For popular high school senior Samantha Kingston, February 12—"Cupid Day"—should be one big party, a day of valentines and roses and the privileges that come with being at the top of the social pyramid. And it is…until she dies in a terrible accident that night.

However, she still wakes up the next morning. In fact, Sam lives the last day of her life seven times, until she realizes that by making even the slightest changes, she may hold more power than she ever imagined.

Book Review: Replica by Lauren Oliver

Replica cover

by Lauran Oliver
Series: Replica #1
Release date: October 4th, 2016
Rating:entertaining but not my favorite.

I have pretty mixed feelings about this.  The pacing was fast and I was very interested in seeing what would happen. Bear in mind that while I am a huge Lauren Oliver fan I am not generally a fan of sci-fi thrillers. 

I love Lauren Oliver’s way with characters.  She has a way of writing them so hyperreal that I am never jarred or annoyed by their choices (even when they are bad ones) because they are reacting in a way that is completely true to their character.  It is one of the main reasons that I enjoy her writing so much.

My favorite of the narrators was Lyra.  I thought that her slow realization that there was something wrong with her existence and her eventual acceptance of personhood to be really interesting to read about. I was sometimes frustrated with her blindness but when I think about it her reactions seem appropriate for the situation that she is in.

Gemma was almost too well realized.  She could literally be any girl in a tenth grade math class trying to survive high school. She doesn’t have the perfect body and she doesn’t see herself as beautiful.  There are still messages that we are giving to girls.  “How you look is the most important thing about you.  Also, everything about how you look is wrong.”  I appreciated that she was so realistic but her cluelessness, self-centeredness, and occasional teenage attitude were sometimes abrasive when contrasted to Lyra. She came across as shallow until the very end of the book.  The introduction of a semi-love triangle to her storyline disappointed me.

The secondary characters are still evolving to me.  I think that it is because neither Lyra or Gemma is able to really understand the people around them that I haven’t decided either.  People they think that they trust let them down.  Their world view of not only challenged it is completely smashed.  Small wonder that there is a kernel of suspicion with everyone else they encounter.  No one seems safe.

I understand that the structure of the book limits the amount of closure that the ending could have but I still found it frustrating.  It also left a lot about Haven and the girls’ pasts unknown.  I think that the book could have used about a hundred more pages to fully explore everything.  I finished the book feeling pretty frustrated. However, looking at the description just now I see that it is part of a duology which might answer my questions.

I read this book on my kindle but honestly this is one of those rare cases where reading the physical copy of the book would have make for a better reading experience.  I kept having to click back and forth and I never seemed to get to the chapter that I wanted to be at.  This of course disrupted the reading flow and caused me to growl warningly at my kindle.

I know that this review sounds as if I am doing a lot of complaining and that the book was no good.  On the contrary I found this to be an entertaining and engaging read.  I am definitely going to read the sequel when it comes out.

From Goodreads:
Two girls, two stories, one epic novel

From Lauren Oliver, New York Times bestselling author of Before I Fall and the Delirium trilogy, comes an epic, masterful novel that explores issues of individuality, identity, and humanity.Replica is a “flip book" that contains two narratives in one, and it is the first in a duology. Turn the book one way and read Lyra's story; turn the book over and upside down and read Gemma's story. The stories can be read separately, one after the other, or in alternating chapters. The two distinct parts of this astonishing novel combine to produce an unforgettable journey. Even the innovative book jacket mirrors and extends the reading experience.

Lyra's story begins in the Haven Institute, a building tucked away on a private island off the coast of Florida that from a distance looks serene and even beautiful. But up close the locked doors, military guards, and biohazard suits tell a different story. In truth, Haven is a clandestine research facility where thousands of replicas, or human models, are born, raised, and observed. When a surprise attack is launched on Haven, two of its young experimental subjects—Lyra, or 24, and the boy known only as 72—manage to escape.

Gemma has been in and out of hospitals for as long as she can remember. A lonely teen, her life is circumscribed by home, school, and her best friend, April. But after she is nearly abducted by a stranger claiming to know her, Gemma starts to investigate her family's past and discovers her father's mysterious connection to the secretive Haven research facility. Hungry for answers, she travels to Florida, only to stumble upon two replicas and a completely new set of questions.

While the stories of Lyra and Gemma mirror each other, each contains breathtaking revelations critically important to the other story. Replica is an ambitious, thought-provoking masterwork.