I actually finished Before I Fall several days ago but have been mulling it over for this review ever since. I think what I wanted to say a few days ago is not precisely what I'll say now, and possibly if I wrote this review sometime in the future, I'd have something else entirely to say then. But for now, it is what it is.
The premise of Before I Fall is riveting: senior Sam Kingston is a member of the popular crowd at her school, has a hot boyfriend, and is seemingly cruising through life, a bit drunk and looking for a laugh. We follow a typical day in her life: Cupid Day (which I guess is somehow related to Valentine's Day) at school, hanging with her friends, heading off to a party while planning that night to be "the" night with her boyfriend Rob. And then...Sam dies in a car wreck. And the next thing she knows, she's waking up to relive the entire day again...and again...and again, a full week's worth of time as she discovers that the smallest things can entirely change outcomes in the most major ways.
I have a love/hate relationship with this book. I love the premise, and I love the idea that Sam knows what's happening and how she can make changes so that her life and the lives of others are changed forever. I love her growing awareness that she and her friends are really not nice people, and I love Kent McFuller, the boy Sam realizes she should have been with. I love some of the changes that Sam makes, which are outrageous but understandable; why not throw caution to the wind if you know how it's all going to turn out anyway? I love the idea that somehow you can get it right before it's too late.
Hates, though...well, as mentioned, Sam and her friends are really not nice people and while changes are made, they don't necessarily redeem the girls. I hated the whole idea of easy alcohol and unsuspecting parents (true to life or not), and I hated that the adults seemed to have let Sam down most. The writing is good but the plot drags at times as it struggles to make Sam relive her last day repeatedly. And, on a purely personal level, as a parent, I hate that young lives are lost and families are destroyed.
All that said, I have to say this may be one of the most thought provoking books I've read in a very long time. It's not sweet and it's not happy, though there are glimpses of both in its pages. But it is sure to stay with me for a very long time as I try to sort through what went wrong for Sam and what went right. Not easy reading, but definitely worth it. Be prepared for an emotion filled experience. A solid 4.5 stars that I'm rounding up to 5 for impact.