Wow. Just wow.
Every so often you read a book that just resonates with you, a book that reaches deep down to your soul and rips it to shreds. For me this was one of those books. I rarely rate books five stars, but I couldn't give this one anything less.
Before I fall is the story of Samantha Kingston, one of the popular girls at her high school, who seems to have it all until she's involved in a tragic accident. Except instead of dying, Samantha is forced to relive her last day over and over again. Over the course of seven days, Samantha goes on a journey of self-discovery and redemption, learning harsh lessons about herself and her friends, as she searches for the reason why she's stuck reliving her last day, and a way to escape the time loop.
Reading the synopsis, it's easy to make comparisons to Groundhog Day and Mean Girls but unlike those movies, Before I Fall is not a comedy. There was no humor to cushion the cruelty and unpleasantness, making this a very different experience than either of the aforementioned movies. Instead of exaggerated truths, Oliver's portrayal of high school, popularity, and bullying were extremely realistic.
Samantha is your classic mean girl, yet I found myself sympathizing with her even though I hated those girls when I was in high school (note: I wasn't one of them although I wasn't bullied either). I was able to see how she came to be the person she was, and I understood why she acted the way she did. Her character development over the course of the novel was also very believable. Samantha's growth isn't linear. She falters along the way, taking several steps backwards at times, but in the end her character arc is resolved beautifully and realistically.
All of the characters, both major and minor, were very nuanced and three dimensional, although not always likable. Lindsay, the Regina George character, is never redeemed but she isn't cartoonishly evil either. Kent is a sweetheart and the voice of reason, and Juliet's character is heartbreaking. The relationships between the characters are also well developed and nuanced from the deeper relationships between Samantha and her close friends, to her budding romance with Kent, to her ambivalent relationship with her family. I could even understand why Samantha was dating Rob, despite the fact that he's a jerk. I also really enjoyed Samantha's brief interactions with minor characters and how they helped her evolve as a person.
On top of having realistic characters and relationships, Before I Fall is beautifully written. Samantha's voice sounds very authentic, and the descriptions are poetic at times without being overbearing. The dialogue was also well written and very realistic. I am in complete awe of Oliver's talent as a writer.
Honestly, I can't say enough good things about this novel. I would recommend it to anyone who loves YA fiction so long as they're prepared to be taken on an emotional roller coaster. Although this book was not an easy read—by the end I was reduced to a sobbing mess—the story was worth it.