Literary Lens: “Before I Fall”
Cause and Effect – a concept I first became familiar with in the first-grade. It was a simpler time when one of my classes was “reading.” My assignment was to bookmark an event in each chapter of what we were reading –at the time it was “Geronimo Stilton” – that caused a significant result. This is the most basic understanding of cause and effect.
In the 2010 novel, “Before I Fall” (its movie adaptation opens in theaters this weekend), author Lauren Oliver introduces a new definition of cause and effect – one that is not as basically defined.
In the prologue, you learn that the narrator and main character, Samantha “Sam” Kingston, has died in a car wreck. Through the next seven chapters, Oliver uses the tried and true “Groundhog Day” plot line. For a week following her death, Sam wakes up every morning only to realize she must relive the day of her death.
The first three chapters did not offer anything that really enticed me to continue reading. The plotline seemed at first too stale. Sam and her friends are the poster girls for high school popularity. Everyone in the school wants to be them, or be friends with them and Sam is dating a popular athlete, Rob. While Sam and her friends all relish their shared popularity, they divert judgement to the unspoken group leader, Sam’s best friend Lindsay.
At first, the novel seems like it is going to be a combination of two commonly used plotlines, the first being having a main character reliving the same day over and over, and the second being a popular girl realizing she should be nicer to people. While Oliver does employ both of these, she also introduces a lesson toward chapter four which affects Sam’s decisions for the book’s remainder: with every action comes an infinite amount of reactions.
“Just one false step, one pause, one detour, and you end up with new friends or a bad reputation or a boyfriend or a break-up,” Sam says to the reader. “And it makes me feel like maybe all of these possibilities exist at the same time, like maybe each moment we live has a thousand other moments layered underneath it that look different.”
As each day passes, Sam becomes more acutely aware of the way her and her friends treat other people, particularly a rather unpopular girl in their school, Juliet Sykes. Lindsay despises Juliet and without ever asking why, Sam and her friends hate her too. After all, when your best friend hates someone, you don’t ask questions, you just hate them too.
As the novel progresses, Sam begins to ask questions that many of us may have asked ourselves when trying to fit in – is it better to be safe and keep your mouth shut when your friends are doing something wrong or stick up for what you know is right and risk losing them? While Oliver adds in plot elements that satisfy the teeny-boppers still living in all of us — will Sam choose the sweet guy who has been in love with her his whole life, Kent, or continue trying to be with her popular jock boyfriend, Rob? — she adds a new depth to the novel that forces readers to evaluate their own lives.
Though the first couple of chapters were a bit dull, the twist ending and Sam’s character growth made “Before I Fall,” a worthwhile read for me. With the movie coming out March 3, I would recommend picking up the book and experiencing Oliver’s creative twist on typical plotlines firsthand before seeing the film.