Samantha Kingston doesn't have the weightiest of matters on her mind the morning of Friday, February 12th, the day she dies. It's the typical concerns of a popular high school senior that preoccupy her: How many roses will she receive today during the popularity contest Cupid Day? Will she and longtime crush (and now boyfriend) Rob actually do the deed tonight as she has promised?
Sam rides to school, discussing these topics with pals Lindsey, Elody and Ally. Lindsey, the leader of the group, is driving erratically and making Sam nervous as usual. Wisecracking Elody is doing what she does best: making everyone laugh with her witty banter. Sam is quite the witty narrator herself. When musing idly on her group's status, she says this about popularity in general: "…you know it when you see it. Like a lazy eye, or porn."
At school Sam begins collecting her roses from the expected Valogram givers, such as Rob and her friends. She also receives one from quirky cartoon artist Kent McFuller, who was once Sam's best friend but whose unique style of dress (including daily blazer and bowler hat combos) and other lone wolf freaky ways mean their paths have long diverged. Sam's day otherwise follows her usual patterns: she cheats from dorky Lauren in chem class, flirts with adorable young teacher Mr. Daimler in trig, and joins her friends in tormenting the classmate they've nicknamed "Psycho."
Sam also ponders the disturbing fact that she often has to tell herself she should be happy to be half of a couple with Rob, while Kent McFreaky seems to have some strange power to disturb her. Kent invites her to a party at his home. Normally she wouldn't consider attending, but her friends decide to go since Kent has promised a keg and a parentless house.
Sam and her group start drinking vodka while they get ready for the party. Although drunk by the time she arrives at Kent's house, Sam can't blame the surreal and dramatic scene that follows on alcohol. She hates to admit it to herself, but she fears that what Kent tells her about herself may actually be correct. And then, Sam's death ends everything for her…
…until the next morning when she awakens to find that it is Friday, February 12th, and Cupid Day all over again. Naturally enough, her first inclination is to believe she has gone insane, but as she relives that day again and again, Sam begins to change in both subtle and enormous ways. She becomes convinced that somehow in some way she can change events during the day so she won't continue to cycle through February 12th forever and ever. Could it be that her purpose is to stop one ugly incident followed by a tragedy in order to fix whatever has gone so weirdly wrong in her world? As Sam grapples with this notion, she wonders what is inevitable in life and what can be changed. How much in her life is she truly responsible for?
Although BEFORE I FALL is getting an incredible amount of attention, the book far surpassed my expectations. I must admit that I was a bit put off at the very beginning by Sam and her friends, who appeared to be the typical popular, beautiful mean girls --- shallow characters who have been featured in way too many books, in my opinion. I was thrilled to be proven wrong quickly. Sam turns out to be a deep thinker as she uncovers layers during her sojourn through seven incarnations of the day of her death, growing and changing with each cycle. She slowly arrives at enlightenment about her family, friends, classmates, teachers and herself. During this process, she gains a new perspective on life itself --- one that may deeply affect how readers view their own lives (I suspect this is part of what has powered the buzz around this book, along with the fact that it's a gripping page-turner).
Words are inadequate to describe how much I admire the inventive and intriguing concept and the brilliant execution of Sam's story, with its brave and perfect conclusion. BEFORE I FALL is a must read.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on March 2, 2010