Thursday, September 2, 2010

Three Viewpoint Thursday: BEFORE I FALL

Here at the Young Adult Literature Review, three of us get together every few weeks to chat about a book that we have all read. Our recent selection is BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver. This is Oliver’s debut novel. Since this is a chat, the transcript below does contain many spoilers. If you have read the book, we would love you to help continue the discussion by commenting in the comment section.

********** SPOILERS ************************

Aly: So basically what did everyone think? Did it live up to the hype? Did you like it? Hate it?

Vi: Okay. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it. I had bouts where I was sucked in and had to keep reading, and then the protagonist would annoy me and I'd want to leave the book forever. It was kind of a weird feeling. I'm not sure about the hype, but there's a lot in here that struck me as bordering on 'literary' fiction. The protagonist would have some deep thoughts that were very interesting, and then she'd go and do something seriously childish, so it was definitely different for me.

Renee: I loved this book, which was surprising because I was kind of skeptical going into it because I wasn't thrilled by THE LOVELY BONES, and I thought it would be the same thing. But it wasn't. I liked how strong the characters were and how different each day was that she kept reliving. It didn't feel as repetitive as I thought it would. And I agree that it had a literary fiction feel to it, which might also be why I loved it so much...

Aly: I realized about 20 pages in that I really dislike chick-lit and high school drama and mean girls and was having a "what was I thinking suggesting this book?" but probably the last 150-200 pages I couldn't put it down. I have trouble with stories where I don't connect with the main characters. Lindsey, Elody, Ally, and Sam were not girls I would ever like in a million years. But the fact that Sam seemed to learn from her experience and evolve and change helped me feel better towards the end. I know a lot of people really loved this book so I was curious to read it. Still mixed feelings but guess I am glad that I did. So, what about the length of the book and the fact that there are 7 days?

Vi: I liked that each day wasn't completely repetitious, and that they took Sam into different aspects of the day and the lives of the people around her. It helped me like her more as she came to realize that she couldn't really hide, but everyone else tried to hide things, too, if that makes sense. Despite the fact that the book is so long, it didn't feel like anything dragged. It was nice to see the various cast of players and how it all eventually worked out on the seventh day.

Renee: I agree. Since each day revealed different people's stories it didn't feel repetitive at all. And it did help me to like Sam, because as she would see the "truth" behind people, beyond her catty mean-popular girl type-casting, I felt like I kept looking forward to how things would be different the next day. And it definitely didn't drag, for me.

Aly: At first I was afraid that the days would be really similar and I liked that a chapter represented a day as the book progressed (well sort of). I did like seeing the back stories as they were revealed and the motivations. And also the "truth" but I was a little confused at the end. Is Sam the only one who dies? Did she get to change it for everyone else?

Vi: As far as I understood it, she's the only one who died. She shoved Juliet out of the way, and heard Juliet's voice as she was dying. But, if someone else has a better explanation...

Renee: I think Sam is the only one who died, as far as I know. I think that was her "mission" or something, to be like a martyr I think.

Aly: That was the part that was confusing at first it seemed that all of them died (well the 4) and then as she tweaked things it was almost as if she was trying to save everyone, knowing that she couldn't really save herself. And that was what seemed really sad. Anyway, was there something that really stood out for you with this story? A character? The writing?

Renee: I loved the writing style, but I really loved the character development. My two favorite characters were Kent and Lindsey, for completely different reasons. I loved Kent because he seemed like such a sincere guy and not the usual bad-boy-turned-good romantic male you see in YA a lot. He was just very loveable.

Renee: I liked Lindsey, because even though I didn't like her as a "person," I liked her as a character. She was very interesting and obnoxious and cruel, but she was obviously making up for her own vulnerabilities and insecurities and I thought she was very sad and complex. I liked that even though she was obviously flawed, she was a good friend to Sam and their gang and in her own way cared. I feel like so many books have girls who defeat the mean popular girls, but very few try to humanize those mean girls, so that was a nice change.

Vi: Very true about the mean girls, Renee. I felt like the author really did an amazing job at portraying all of the characters as having flaws, but good points as well. That's probably what stood out the most for me. And, of course, I had to love Kent. He's such a great character!

Aly: I think that was part of what I thought Oliver did really well. I think she portrayed the whole mean girls/high school drama very well. Not over glamorizing anything or under playing things. I was very pleased when Sam began to see Rob as a jerk. I liked that Juliet had a chance. And I adored Kent. I loved that he was more than what appeared on the surface in some ways and that Sam had a chance to see this.

Aly: So would you recommend this? Would you read more from Oliver? I know her next book seems to be getting some hype already?

Renee: I would definitely read more from Oliver, because I liked her writing style. And I would recommend this, but probably only to 16/17 yr olds or older, because the book does give a very frank (and therefore, not particularly wholesome) picture of the lives of some teens. And like Vi said, it did feel kind of literary fiction adult-ish, like Curtis Sittenfield.

Vi: I actually have someone in mind that might like this. I do think that, because of the literary feel to it, not everyone will take to it. I'm still sort of border-line, myself. I'd also definitely call this "new adult" and would not really recommend it to anyone younger than about 15, although mostly it's because there's a certain maturity in the writing that anyone younger might have trouble with, not that it's overly explicit about anything.

Aly: I think there are actually "younger" teens like Freshmen who will like it because it is chick-lit and because they read at a higher level. I wouldn't put it in a middle grade library because if you tried to limit it to 8th grade then everyone wants to read it. I think some teen readers might find it "literary" but I think it actually moves kind of quickly from the middle to the end. So if they had the attention to hang in...but I probably wouldn't be recommending it to all teens. I would more likely be selective. As for "new adult"...I'm not sure that I agree. I think DUST OF 100 DOGS is very much either new adult or adult with a crossover interest for upper teens because the character doesn't seem particularly YA...but in this case the characters are strictly in the high school age group participating in high school stuff...if you know what I mean.

Vi: I say new adult mostly because the content reminds me of that in BALLADS OF SUBURBIA. I got a more mature vibe. I wouldn't even really say it's a "crossover" novel, because it deals with more high school dramas, but the thoughts and ideas and development of the main character push it into an older category for me. Some more mature younger readers could "get" it, but I think the difference would come when some readers get the entertainment value and some get the real issues it's dealing with. It kind of makes me think of Nirvana's music - it was popular because some teens decided it was catchy, but the ones who really "got" the music were few and far between.

Aly: Any other thoughts on the book? I am kind of feeling like I am missing something but I think we covered most things?

Vi: I think we covered it pretty well.

Renee: Agreed. I think we got most of it, although I was curious about why Sam's reliving her life 7 times was never really explained. Did it have to be exactly 7 days, or if she completed her final mission/martyrdom on day 4 would that have been it? I didn't need the answer to that question to enjoy the book, but I guess I was kind of curious about it...

Aly: I thought it was kind of hinted at by Sam at one point when she mentioned some movie? Or am I making this up?

Vi: I'm not sure. Maybe? Maybe the significance was just that it was a week? She referenced GROUNDHOG DAY day at one point, but there weren't just seven days in that.

Renee: Like I said, I enjoyed it without getting an answer, and I didn't see GROUNDHOG DAY, so I didn't know if I was missing something.

Aly: I would have to check but it didn't necessarily bother me. Also didn't see GROUNDHOG DAY so it wasn't exactly as if I was checking.


Thanks Vi & Renee for participating in the chat. I know that I love discussing books with other book people and in discovering new books. As usual, this was fun. Now, if you have read BEFORE I FALL, how would you respond to the questions?

* Aly


  1. Interesting discussion.
    To answer some of the questions...

    So basically what did everyone think? Did it live up to the hype? Did you like it? Hate it?
    I read most of it on the computer, and given its length, being able to actually FINISH it really says a lot about the book and my reaction to it. Namely, that I loved it. It's one of my favourite YA, 2010 Debut Novels so far.

    So, what about the length of the book and the fact that there are 7 days?
    I think it was very fitting. Before I Fall is quite a big one, but although it follows 7 days, it didn't feel repetitive nor did it really drag on and on. I think it had to do a lot with Oliver's writing and the pace of it all was good-- for the most part I was just tearing through.

    Is Sam the only one who dies? Did she get to change it for everyone else?
    Either this is my interpretation, or I read this from Oliver's interview... she died the first day, but she's stuck in some sort of relapse, like, within her head. And only when she finds solace in doing what is RIGHT can she die in peace. I really liked the vague "make your own interpretation" ending.

    Anyway, was there something that really stood out for you with this story? A character? The writing?
    All of it was unique, to me. All of what you guys said, really.

    So would you recommend this? Would you read more from Oliver? I know her next book seems to be getting some hype already?
    I have recommended this heaps of times. Delirium sounds like another great read, and I'm looking forward to reading it. She is definitely an author to watch out for!

  2. Thanks Cass for responding. Loved the continued discussion with your responses.