“Mean Girls” meets “Groundhog Day.” Be prepared to feel completely apathetic (or worse) toward the main character for at least one-fourth of the book. Sam’s life-changing experience takes an agonizingly long time to set in, and even when it does, her redemption is not smooth or quick. Despicable characters being hateful, selfish, trashy, and thoroughly unlikeable makes for a difficult read. The only thing that kept me reading was knowing that something had to give, and at some point, someone had to start doing or saying something nice.
Before I Fall is possibly realistic. No doubt there are young people like this in the world, who run all over others and care nothing for the consequences of their hateful actions. The book gives scary insights into popularity–what regular people think of popular people, and what popular people think of themselves and others. It’s not pretty. It also gives a lot of insight into the psychological harm that can be inflicted by children who are hurting onto other children that are hurting. The whole society is so heinous that the reader spends most of the time wondering where parents and teachers are, and why they don’t put a stop to all the madness. Yes, you will become invested in these people’s lives, against your will. The writing is vivid and strong.
In the end, there is redemption for our protagonist, and I even felt myself getting a little teary–a huge jump from the revulsion I felt for her at the beginning of the book. This speaks to Lauren Oliver’s ability to write believable, dimensional characters. Before I Fall is a powerful book, but I recommend it with reservations. Readers comfortable with edgy characters and storytelling will find it to be an important read.
Content note: the characters live one day five times over, so many of the events are repeated. Each has been counted as a separate event.
Profanity/Language: 46 religious exclamations; 15 mild obscenities; 1 religious profanity; 42 derogatory names; 52 scatological words; 5 anatomical terms; 2 obscene gestures.
Violence/Gore: Several stories are told about teens committing suicide (no details); a character commits suicide (3 times, few details); a character is killed in a car accident with few details (3 times); a character imagines a gory scenario (twice); a character draws a violent picture.
Sex/Nudity: Characters flirt; underage characters plan to have sex; characters kiss briefly (6 times); characters claim to have had sex (3 times); a character is rumored to have had sex (twice); a character claims to have “gotten close” to having sex; characters “make out” (6 times); pornography is mentioned; several crude references to sex; an underage character flirts with an adult (twice); a character puts his hands under a girl’s shirt; characters engage in crude body movements several times; characters hold hands, a character smacks another character on the buttocks; masturbation is mentioned (semi-graphic detail); an underage character thinks about kissing an adult; in an extended scene (2 pgs), an underage character and an adult character kiss passionately with an element of force from the adult; a character is known to walk around naked in his backyard; a character lifts her shirt in front of members of the opposite sex; underage characters discuss their sexual activity (no details, twice); a character is groped with clothing on; a character is rumored to have allowed boys to touch her breasts; characters kiss in an extended scene (2 pgs); in an extended scene, underage characters kiss and caress one another with the intent to have sex (few details); a character is discovered naked.
Mature Subject Matter:
Suicide, homosexuality references (name-calling), bullying.
Alcohol / Drug Use:
Underage characters use marijuana; underage characters drink excessively, drive drunk, and party; underage characters smoke.