DNF Book Review: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Y’all. I can’t.

I caaaaan’t.

Alright, let me take a deep breath before I get into this.

I tried with this book. I really did. But by the time I was about 100 pages in and the main character/narrator was still making sure we knew just how popular she is and just how obsessed with her everyone at her school is and how she’s basically school royalty, I knew I just wasn’t going to be able to do it.

Let me be clear about one thing: I love flawed characters. In fact, if a character is not flawed, I’m pretty upset about it, because let’s be serious…nobody’s perfect. We all know that. Sometimes (a lot of times) the flawed characters are the most interesting, and more than once I have found myself on the side of the villain because they’re just that compelling.

I mean, hi, love of my life much, Loki?

But this. This main character is not the love-them-even-though-they’re-flawed character. This main character is not the so-flawed-you-can’t-help-but-love-them character. This main character is not even the love-this-character-because-I-can-see-myself-in-their-flaws character.

This main character is downright unbearable. There are no facets to this girl; she’s just bad. All around bad. There’s no nuance, no depth, no layers. Just more and more evidence of how completely unbearable she is.

For me, this is just not going to work out. I’m a very character based reader and I really feel that the characters drive the book, even more so than the plot a lot of times. But in the case of Samantha Kingston, the narrator of Before I Fall, I just…don’t care. I don’t care about this character enough to push through another almost 300 pages of this book. I don’t care what kind of epic emotional journey she has and what kind of major transformation she undergoes. I just can’t bring myself to care. She. Is. The worst.

The entire beginning of the book is just pages upon pages upon pages of the main character bragging about how popular she is, declaring that it’s not her fault she’s so popular, and detailing the rules of popularity, such as “the more roses you get on Valentine’s Day, the more popular you are”, or “there are only three acceptable things to eat in the cafeteria”. (Or…what? The world implodes? If you order something other than French fries does the floor open up and swallow you whole? Please, enlighten me.)

But there’s nothing inherently wrong with being popular. Of course not. Tons of people are popular and they’re perfectly good people. The obsession with popularity and the overall sense that she somehow deserves popularity for some reason, however…well, that’s another story. But, she’s seventeen. We were all pretty misguided at seventeen. I can see how a seventeen year old might become a biiiiit too preoccupied with the wrong things, like being “popular.”

You’re gonna be pop-you-larrrr

But on top of her obsession with being popular, she’s just a nasty person. She’s mean and she’s a bully. She can’t stand her little sister because her sister…loves her? Wants to be around her all the time? She is “annoyed” with one of the girls who delivers Valentine’s flowers because she “has the balls to talk to a senior”, and then the second time she lives through the same day, she just straight up yells in her face for lingering near her desk for too long. (I mean, HOW DARE SHE?) She acts like an asshole to a guy who used to be her best friend because he’s not popular, and declares that he’s obsessed with her simply because he gave her a flower. When her friends give her a condom and joke about her having sex with her boyfriend she says, “You’re pagans.” As if…it is an insult.

Wait, why is that an insult? Are we using religious slurs as insults now? Is that what the cool kids do?

She and her friends make date rape jokes about the guy who gave her a flower (again, just because he’s not popular?) but still agree to go to a party at his house that night, and I was basically puking in my mouth by the time we reached the point where Sam Kingston was making fun of the mentally disabled students at her school. (“It’s better than getting a straight shot of the short bus brigade dribbling their applesauce.”)

And then as the cherry on top of this monstrous sundae, she and her friends bully a young woman named Juliet, and Sam doesn’t even feel bad about it, saying, and I quote, “she deserves it for being such a freak.”

YEAH, CUZ THAT MAKES SENSE.

At one point, the narrator tells us that her school has the highest suicide rate in the state and that the news at one point dubbed it “Suicide High” and I practically screamed, COULD IT BE BECAUSE OF ALL THE BULLYING???

And before anyone tries to present the logic behind this character to me as, “Well, that’s the point, duh! The main character goes through this amazing transformation and becomes a better person!” Let me be clear: I get it. I really, really do. I mean she dies at the very beginning of the book, and then we go back and relive this day, so it’s pretty much spelled out for me where this is all going. I understand that that’s the point. I just do not care. There are so many more pages left of this book, and there are so many other things I could be reading that wouldn’t be nearly this rage-inducing. It’s way too hard to get invested enough in this character to actually care about her transformation.

And it’s not just that she’s totally unrelatable, though, to be honest she is. Let’s be frank here: I’ve never really been popular. So I can’t say whether or not her rendition of “what it is to be popular” and what it’s like for “everyone to be watching you” and be totally obsessed with you is accurate. But aside from the popularity thing, no one is this one-dimensional. No one. Paper dolls have more dimension than this character. The only thing she has going on is popular mean girl.

And at the end of one of the chapters, as Sam is dying (again), she has the nerve to present a list of her recent transgressions and say, “I know some of you are thinking maybe I deserved it.”

Uh, no. Because we’re not horrible people. We don’t wish death on others. Even when they’re crap people.

I think you all basically get it…I hate this character and can’t give enough of a crap of her to care about her deeeep emotional journey and how much she learns about being a good person and so on and so forth.

But I also wasn’t sure if I liked the whole presentation of the “no tomorrow” concept. For example, all the references to the song “Tomorrow” from Annie (I mean multiple times) after we already know that the main character dies that night? Eh. Just felt like it was laying it on a little thick. Actually, a lot thick. And the character’s references to things like running out of time or having no more tomorrows also was just a little cheesy. Maybe for some people that would really hit home, but to me, it just seemed like pure cheese. Which brings me to my next point…

Just one more.

I sort of knew the message behind this book before I started reading it, but I actually didn’t know that the main character was such a bad person (in my opinion, at least), and now that I know, I find myself asking…wait, what exactly are we supposed to be learning from this?

Life is short, so don’t be a shitty person?

Or…

Live your life, because you never know when it will end?

Um, okay?

These aren’t exactly revolutionary concepts. You shouldn’t have to die in a car accident and then repeat the same day over and over again in order to learn to not be a bad person.

And before you swoop in here with the “well, it’s YA, it’s for young people” defense, dare I say, young adults know this, too. Young adults know it’s bad to be a shitty person. They’re young, not stupid.

I partially blame myself for this one, because, like I said, I sort of knew the message going in, but I guess I was expecting it go more toward the “appreciate everything because life is so short” route and not so much the “don’t be a horrible person because life is so short” route. I mean, I don’t disagree with the sentiment…you shouldn’t be a horrible person. And life is short. But again, how can I get on board with a character who needs to die multiple times just to figure that out?

I do have some positive things to say, though, and I hate for a review to be all negativity, so let me point out some things I did appreciate about this book.

For one, I absolutely hated the main character. But wait, Sam, you already listed that as a negative…? Yes, but the thing is, the author did a good enough job of making the character believably horrible that I really did hate her. Unfortunately, in this case, that just…didn’t work out for me.

But there were some nice bits of writing/description. For example, “The sky is a perfect, pale blue. The sun has just risen, weak and watery-looking, like it has just spilled itself over the horizon and is too lazy to clean itself up.”

That’s nice. That’s a really nice bit of writing, right there.

Of course, I mean this review (nor do I ever mean any review) as any offense to the author, but this is just…not the book for me. I hate to DNF things, but, Sam Kingston is right…life is short.

Too short for me to spend it finishing such a rage-puke inducing book. Especially when I have so many other amazing-looking titles on my TBR.

In conclusion….1 out of 5 stars. I’ll give it one for the nice bits of imagery. But know that I’m awarding that one star rather begrudgingly.

Do not recommend.

I’m off to do some more deep breathing.

Has anyone else read this book? Did anyone else hate it as much as I did? Or am I the only one? Let me know! You know I’d love to talk. <3

 

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