Making things right in Lauren Oliver’s “Before I Fall”

If you only read one book this year, it should be Lauren Oliver‘s Before I Fall. This profound story will have you hooked from the get go. Oliver vividly draws a picture of the devastating damage caused by bullying and the ease of which some teens turn a blind eye to this behaviour whilst at the same time reminding us all that at anytime we can change who we are and become better people.

What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life?

Samantha Kingston has it all: the world’s most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life.

Instead, it turns out to be her last.

Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.

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Before I Fall is a really powerful story with a deeper, main message to admire: the idea of making right that which is wrong.

After learning what happens on Friday, February 12th, Sam has a sudden sense of urgency – she realises that time is no longer on her side. Now that these events pose an end to her, she begins to develop a more reflective capacity within her thinking. As the novel progresses, she says:

“Maybe you can afford to wait. Maybe for you there’s a tomorrow. Maybe for you there’s one thousand tomorrows, or three thousand, or ten, so much time you can bathe in it, roll around in it, let it slide like coins through your fingers. So much time you can waste it.
But for some of us there’s only today. And the truth is, you never really know.”
— Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall

This totally captures both the essence of the book, it’s main message and Sam’s character. the idea that “you never really know” illustrates the idea that we need to be nicer to one another, need to decrease cruelty to one another, because we might not have time to atone for it.

Philosophically, if we all lived our lives as though “there’s only today” then our actions would have more meaning. We would, in fact, do what we loved or kiss who we really wanted to. Honestly, there’s a chance that we would leave more good than bad in our legacy if we embraced what Martin Luther King called, “the fierce urgency of now.” Sam learns this the hard way, and this quote reflects the main message of the story of fixing what is broken.

When I first started reading the story, I was hooked from the first page. But at the same I found that I never really liked Sam. She was a bully,a girl who thought the most important thing in life was popularity, she put herself and her friends above everyone else. She annoyed me, and I never really thought she was a nice person. But by the end of the novel, she was a completely different person, one I began to admire. She had a beautiful character arc.

She ends up realising how different she is from her friends. One example of this is when she pushes her best friend, Lindsay, into explaining her previous friendship with Juliet, who she now mercilessly bullies. When Sam presses her as to why she now torments the girl who stood up for her, Lindsay tells us:

“I thought eventually she’d tell everybody what really happened… Why didn’t she ever stick up for herself? Not once, She just – she just took it. Why?”
— Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall

Through this, Oliver suggests that one of reasons that people do bad things to others is purely that they don’t understand them. Lindsay couldn’t wrap her head around why Juliet would just “take it.”

We know from Sam’s conversations with Juliet that she “took it” because she thought it was her duty as a friend to do so. She possesses a level of friendship that completely escapes Lindsay. This quote is a reminder that there are some people and behaviours around us that might go beyond what we are capable of understanding. When this happens, the best thing to do is stop, think, and reflect on why people do the things that they do. This is another one of the novel’s main messages: that when we understand people more, we tend to do less bad things to them.

The power of human transformation is the last of the Before I Fall‘s main, and deeper, messages. Which we can see from Sam’s character arc. From the cruel and superficial girl that she was, Sam has evolved – she recognises the truth, even if it is now too late. By the end of the novel, she says:

“It feels like I’ve reached back in time and corrected something. I haven’t felt so alive, so capable of doing things, in I don’t know how long.”
— Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall

Sam’s words are a reminder of how human beings, even those of us who do bad things, easily possess the capacity to do good things, better things. When we have the courage to reflect on the course of our lives, there can be a profound sense of introspection and atonement. Sam’s quote reminds us that at any point we can wake up and do better things and be better people. We don’t need to wait a single moment before starting to improve ourselves and the world.

She reminds us that anybody capable of love, is capable of being saved.

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