For the next Book I Wish Had Existed When I Was in High School, I absolutely have to tap Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver.


before I fall


Full disclosure: I put off reading this one for a really long time because I didn't think I was going to like it. The premise—which could sort of be described as Groundhog Day meets Mean Girls (popular girl dies, only to relive the same day over and over again while learning to be a better person)—struck me as being at high risk for rampant sentimentality, complete with Lessons Learned, and even as a little kid, I was pretty resistant to cautionary tales and anything that smacked of after-school-special.


And then when I finally picked it up, I was duly chastened, because instead of being not my thing at all, it turned out to be exactly my thing.


For those who haven't read it, Before I Fall is kind of a strange beast. Oliver combines a bunch of elements I really like, but don't often see happily coexisting together. Even though the central device is thoroughly fantastical, this is a book that reads 100% like contemporary realism, (which is one of my favorite genres). The depictions of daily life are fully articulated and lovingly mundane, and the complex social interactions of the characters are the most important part of the story. The fact that our narrator is reliving the same day over and over again is not The Point, but rather, a way to get a really good look at the precarious dynamics of high school social schemas.


Before I Fall is widely acknowledged to be a book about mean girls. However, I'd make the case that Sam, the main character, is not a prototypical mean girl. At the outset of the story, she's definitely a weak girl, but there's nothing sadistic about her, which I think is in keeping with the realities of bullying—meaning that most people who act in antisocial ways are not sadistic. Rather, they're bad at propelling themselves through society in a way that doesn't damage or exploit others, and also prone to hitching themselves to those vicious few who have no reservations about using power like a weapon.


When I talked about The Big Crunch last week , I was mostly interested in what that book could have told teenage-me about myself. With Before I Fall, the more pertinent thing is what it might have been able to tell me about my world, because it completely debunks the politics of bullying as depicted by movies like Heathers* without taking the position of apologist. I'm not going to go so far as to say it necessarily functions as a guide book to the underlying messiness and paranoia of teenage popularity, but it has to at least qualify as a brochure.


(The kind with a map on the back.)


*Heathers was my favorite movie as a tween—taught me everything I thought I knew about adolescence. Then I got to school and had to unlearn half of it.



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Published on March 21, 2012 11:55 • 221 views
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message 1: by Jill (new)

Jill Redman I love your analysis of the bullying part of this book. So much of it is following along in order to advance one's social standing. I recently read this one and it has stayed with me.


message 2: by Brenna (new)

Brenna Yovanoff Jill wrote: "I love your analysis of the bullying part of this book. So much of it is following along in order to advance one's social standing. I recently read this one and it has stayed with me."

I'm honestly sorry I didn't read it sooner, but of course doubly-sorry that it wasn't around when I was 16! Bullying is one of those things that I've always found really interesting—I was bullied a fair amount in tenth grade, and then with no warning, it just sort of … stopped, and I could never figure out why, except that as people grew, social dynamics changed considerably.


message 3: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Fisher Hi Brenna,

Thanks for being my friend. :) I have resisted this book as well for the same reasons but now I'll have to check it out. Even structurally it sounds interesting. I just wanted to say that Heathers was a big deal to me...it was how middle school felt and like you said, in high school it just stopped. ????


message 4: by Brenna (new)

Brenna Yovanoff Rachel wrote: "Hi Brenna,

… I just wanted to say that Heathers was a big deal to me...it was how middle school felt and like you said, in high school it just stopped. ????"


Hi, Rachel! Good to see you here :)

I was homeschooled up until high school, so when I started as a sophomore, I didn't really have any basis for comparison—but some of the stories I've heard other people tell about middle school are pretty horrific! I think tenth grade was so aggressive because people were still kind of clinging to their old behaviors, but then most of them seemed to grow out of it, or recognize that it wasn't necessary, or something. I just remember that by the time I was a senior, I was completely shocked by how badly some of the incoming sophomores treated each other!


message 5: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Fisher Brenna wrote: "Rachel wrote: "Hi Brenna,

… I just wanted to say that Heathers was a big deal to me...it was how middle school felt and like you said, in high school it just stopped. ????"

Hi, Rachel! Good to s..."


You were the smart one to skip middle school! It was horrendous. If you ever want a really dark, really realistic portrayal of this age group, watch Welcome to the Dollhouse. Very good. Very real. Very disturbing. And it is good to see you here too. We are going up to NYC this May and will be catching up with Jen, Gil, and Tirion. Can't wait to see the little one, she's getting so big!


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