I love Michael Koryta! I love his sure hand with characterization, his plots, his twists and turns, his writing, his sense of place, and most especial...moreI love Michael Koryta! I love his sure hand with characterization, his plots, his twists and turns, his writing, his sense of place, and most especially the soupcon of supernatural he has taken to introducing in his novels. (Okay, maybe more than a soupcon -- but it's never gratuitous.) Some things I saw coming, but I was still on the edge of my chair, fully engaged to the last page. My idea of a perfect summer read (or any other time, actually.)
Oh, and did I mention it's a historical? (But not in the corny thee and thou sense.) My cup runneth over!(less)
What's not to like? Brave but sensitive heroine, incredible conflict, good love story/relationship, more conflict, suspense up the yazoo, satisfying r...moreWhat's not to like? Brave but sensitive heroine, incredible conflict, good love story/relationship, more conflict, suspense up the yazoo, satisfying resolution with just enough irresolution to send you panting for the next book in the series...
So since I have to find something to kvetch about, I'm going to pick on one small grammatical error Ms. Collins makes repeatedly. Unfortunately, this error has become so widespread in our society (or is it world?) that it has almost come to replace the correct usage. But I'll fight the good fight anyway, so here goes: To lower oneself into a horizontal position (in the present tense) is not to "lay" down. It is to "lie" down. I run into this constantly, and it drives me crazy. When did "lay" replace "lie" in our parlance? "I lie down" = present tense. "I lay down" = past tense. If you want to say, "I lay the plate on the tablecloth", that is correct. But if you yourself are the one lying down, it is "LIE".
This is a hard book to describe -- a coming of age that takes place right before death, you might say. In seventh grade, Samantha Kingston was raised...more This is a hard book to describe -- a coming of age that takes place right before death, you might say. In seventh grade, Samantha Kingston was raised from the social dead to the inner circle of popularity by Lindsay Edgecombe, one of those girls whose larger-than-life nerve and verve have marked her for Queen Bee-dom from the beginning. Ever since then, Sam and Lindsay, along with two other pals, have ruled whatever roost they happened to be in, and now are seniors perched at the top of the heap. Sam thinks she has everything she wants until, one snowy night, she is killed in a car crash.
This is where "Before I Fall" seems to echo Dante. Disclaimer: I have never read Dante. But from what I know of The Divine Comedy, the sinner has to go through many levels of Hell and Purgatory before attaining true insight and salvation, and Samantha certainly goes through her own version of that as she relives her last day seven times, each time moving closer to personal enlightenment.
When the book starts, Samantha is a spoilt girl who is clearly charged up by her luck at being part of the "in group" -- she has one of the coolest guys as a boyfriend, goes to all the best parties, is kowtowed to at every turn, and, led by the satanic Lindsay, participates in ugly tricks on the less popular. (A particular victim is Juliet Sykes, a vague, unhappy girl they have nicked named "Psycho".) But as the day repeats, with the awareness of coming death never far in the background, Sam starts to understand things she never had before. That Anna Cavullo, who Lindsay has publicly dubbed "Trailer Trash", is not the one-dimensional "skank" she thought; that her own cool boyfriend is a jerk; that the suave male teacher she adores is a sad case who hits on teenage girls as a way of reliving his own youth; that Kent, the best friend she dumped in third grade because he wasn't cool enough, is actually the one worthy of her love; and mostly, that secret demons push all those who torment others, particularly leader-of-the-pack Lindsay.
All these discoveries peel back Sam's psyche in a process that not only echoes the seven circles of purgatory but the seven stages of grief, from denial to anger to depression to acceptance as she comes to terms with the fact that she is going to die. In the end she understands she can't undo her own fate, she can only come to it in the right way. You could say she dies fulfilled and even happy.
This is a beautifully psychologically realized novel. The topic of mean girls has been revisited jillions of times, but never with this depth and insight. While some people have complained that you do have to relive the same story numerous times, each version is so well and differently done, psychologically, that it's like you are reading a whole different book. The suspense is not so much: will she die? (though you do wonder now and then) but, will she become the person she can be? And how? The answer is yes and the process by which she gets there is amazing.
What struck me all the many years ago when I read this book was how well written it was for a bestselling historical, not to mention psychologically a...moreWhat struck me all the many years ago when I read this book was how well written it was for a bestselling historical, not to mention psychologically acurate. You feel you know these people, from the spoilt, selfish, unintellectual, blind and just plain infuriating Scarlett O'Hara to the dashing, cynical, self-aware, yet oddly caring Rhett Butler. The characters, even the most minor ones, live and breathe, and the portrait of a society going to pieces is riveting. I still remember curling under the covers long past my bedtime, my heart pounding as Scarlett delivered Melanie's baby and escaped burning Atlanta. The book does, of course, suffer from the racism of the period in which it was written, yet even so you are picked up and swept along in the... well, let's say, wind. (less)