Virtual YA Book Club Discussion: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

The book

We kicked off our Virtual YA Book Club with Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver as our September selection. Here’s the general premise: Samantha Kingston, one of Thomas Jefferson High  School’s most popular girls, dies on Friday, February 12. But she gets the chance to relive her last day on earth—seven times. In one week, she goes back to the same day and attempts to change the course of the day and unravel the mystery of her death.

My thoughts

At first, Samantha is a tough protagonist to like. After all, she’s a mean girl. She isn’t nice to her parents or little sister. She sneers at pretty much everyone at school who isn’t one of her best friends or her boyfriend. But as the chapters went on and Samantha tries to change what she’s done and what’s happening to other people, then I was hooked. As we learned more about the inner worlds of these mean girls—Lindsay Edgecombe, in particular—we realize who they really are outside of their school personas. I also loved her relationship with Kent. It was one of the most honest, sweet relationships of the book for me. Overall, I thought Before I Fall was beautifully written and so engaging. And for me, it was the first time I was reading a teen story from the perspective of a mean girl.

Discussion Questions

Now let’s chat about this book! Here are some discussion questions to kick it off. Please answer in the comments. Feel free to add more questions.

1) What do you think of Samantha’s development as a character from beginning to end? How do you think she changed?

2) Even though you know that she’s going to die at the end of each chapter, Lauren Oliver manages to hook you to find out exactly how things will be different. In chapter one, we get to see the day as it happens, then we see the variations. What is one of your favorite chapters/days and why?

3) What did you think of the other female characters in book besides Samantha—such as Lindsay, Juliet Skyes, Anna Cartullo, or even Izzy? In contrast, what did you think of the male characters like Kent McFuller, Mr. Daimler, and Rob?

4) Everything happens on Cupid Day, again and again. What do you think is the significance of Samantha’s last day as a teen girl landing on (almost) Valentine’s Day?

5) The last few chapters are so gripping, especially the last chapter when you know that this is the end for Samantha. You also know what’s going to happen, but there’s a bittersweet quality to each of the moments she spends with her family and friends. Let’s talk about a few key points of dialogue and prose. When Sam says at the end to Juliet, “It’s never too late,” I feel like it sums up the whole book. The epilogue of the book is one of my favorite moments, especially when Sam says, “And kissing Kent, because that’s when I realized that time doesn’t matter. That’s when I realized that certain moments go on forever. Even after they’re over they still go on, even after you’re dead and buried.” There’s something hauntingly beautiful and the same time makes me feel OK that Samantha Kingston is finally dead. What are some of your favorite moments of the book?

19 Comments on “Virtual YA Book Club Discussion: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

  1. 1. I am so happy that Sam’s character underwent some growth, if not I don’t think this would have been as enjoyable. She stopped focusing on herself and started thinking about others. She also realised that her previous behaviour had been wrong and that she needed to stop worrying about popularity and not just go along with everything because Lindsay said to.

    2. I loved the day when Sam and Izzy stay home from school and Sam takes her to Goose Point. I also loved day 6 because she had a positive outlook on the day and because Kent finally kissed her.

    3. Lindsay was really hard to like, I knew what we were going to find out about her, that part was obvious, and even though she’s got her reasons, I still found her to be too mean and I really hope that Sam’s death might mean she changes her behaviour (but I doubt it!) Izzy was adorable and I think Sam could have learnt a lot from her, she doesn’t care about being teased, wears whatever she likes and isn’t embarrassed by her lisp. I really felt for Juliet, I can’t imagine what it must have been like to suffer all those years. I wanted her to stand up for herself and not let them get to her but that’s easy to say and harder to do, especially when she seemed like a shy, quiet girl.

    I loved Kent, he seemed like a guy that was comfortable being himself and I thought it was sweet that he’d always been waiting for an opportunity to step up and be there for Sam. I also liked that he knew she wasn’t being herself.

    Rob was pretty forgettable and I wasn’t surprised by Mr Daimler’s behaviour.

    4. This hadn’t even occurred to me… maybe because Valentine’s Day is about love.

    5. I really was holding out in hope that Sam would get her life back so that final chapter made me realise it just wasn’t going to happen. My favourite moments were when Sam spends time with Izzy on their day at home, when Sam sends Kent a rose, the first night he lets her stay over, the moment Sam’s mum crosses the line at her bedroom door and comes in to sit on her bed, and that last moment watching her family before she leaves for school. I also enjoyed Sam’s interactions with her friends when they weren’t being mean to/about other people!

    This was such a lot of fun, I’m going to post my review tomorrow 🙂 Mands xox

    • Thanks for your comments Mandee! Yes, the day home from school was a good one. I loved the relationship between Izzy and Sam. It made me hopeful that Izzy would turn out to be an independent teenager some day. And you’re right, Kent and Izzy were totally comfortable being who they were, even though other people made fun of them.

      To me, Rob reminded me of some of the guys I liked when I was a teenager through college. The kind of guy that you really want to impress but then you start to see that they’re really not that great after all.

      Please post a link to your review here! I’d love to read it.

      • I think you’re 100% right about Rob – he’s definitely the guy a lot of us liked in high school/college. He was the obvious guy to like. But then once you got to know him, he wasn’t ever what you expected/what you hoped.

        Also, I think it might have been on (almost) Valentine’s Day because it’s such a false holiday. Just as Sam was a false person. As she progressed, she realized the importance of so many other things (and didn’t, essentially, need the superficiality of a flower/day to prove she’s loved and she loves others.) And I love her progression because it was so slow and subtle. You went from hating her to loving her and never realized when the change occurred.

      • Lauren, good points on Rob and Valentine’s Day! I remember sending a rose to my high school “Rob.” At the time it seemed like the most important thing ever.

  2. 1. I thought Samantha’s transformation was handled really well in terms of mean to nice, but throughout I longed for more connection to her. I found her a little enigmatic. However, I think it made sense in a certain way–she had no real identity except being a “mean girl” and that was sort of the problem.
    2. I really liked when she went to Juliet’s house. This added a new dimension to the book to me, even if I was sort of not in favor of her living in a house of horror. I also liked when she found that girl in the bathroom, mostly because I was thinking about how hard it would be for me to write a scene with all that stuff in it–I mean in real life, I probably couldn’t even figure out how to block a bathroom door.
    3. I was fine with Lindsay, I thought her jokes were funny even though she was terrible. I liked the name Elody. I couldn’t stand Izzy!! I really wish Izzy had been a cool younger brother. At that point the sentimentality that was more hinted at in the rest was coming out full force and it was too much for me. Actually I found it very notable that Sam did seem to have the “picture perfect family.” I can’t imagine if she had to deal with resolving her dysfunctional family on top of all these other issues. I liked Juliet. She seemed to spice things up a lot. I thought Daimler and Rob were well handeled. Kent was okay, but I didn’t buy it. I didn’t really feel they had chemistry. I think this would have been hard to pull off…Daimler and Rob were so sexualized that to distinguish himself I think Kent had to not be…to indicate something deeper, more real, more meaningful. I think I would have maybe preferred it if Kent and Sam had had a romantic past. Also not into the Kent type in real life so this might have something to do with it 🙂
    4. Yeah, interesting. Seems like the book was about love that isn’t always romantic love, so that makes sense, having it be Cupid’s Day to emphasize this theme.
    5. I had a lot of favorite moments. (This is sort of like answer to #2). I liked what Sam said to the girl about not being so grateful when she passed her the pencil in class at one point. I liked all the versions of the climactic Juliet scene at the house. The book is fading from my memory though! The writing was good and there were a lot of awesome sentences.
    Really fun!

    • Hi Maya:

      Interesting points! I’m curious why didn’t you like Izzy? For me, she felt the better version of Sam. Like Kent and Izzy were the kind of people who don’t care what other people think. They’re comfortable being themselves.

      Thanks for joining us!

      • Well, it wasn’t Izzy’s fault per se, but I felt this dynamic was repeated several times. Nice girl who doesn’t deserve Sam being short/mean with her. I just felt it was corny, like she was a human puppy. I vibed with Kent’s individualism more…though can you really be individual if you still want the hot girl? Why do you want her? Don’t have the answers…just saying…

  3. 1) I thought Sam and her friends started out as pretty over-the-top characters that I didn’t find very believable, but then I remembered a few insanely mean girls I knew throughout my own school experience. How can people be so shitty? Unfortunately, I felt like Sam’s transformation happened a little too effortlessly, honestly. I guess death is a pretty big motivator when it comes to turning over a new leaf, but she just seemed to “get it” pretty early on without having to work very hard at it. I had a hard time disassociating the bitch she started out as from the “new Sam” that developed and was never really satisfied with the reasons WHY she was the way she was or how she became the new, improved version. I liked her best during the little interactions with her friends, when they quipped and laughed and had their inside jokes.

    2) The relationship with Kent was the most interesting to me so I really liked the day that she finally started being responsive to him. The anticipation and excitement brought back memories of how sweet young love was, with all its butterflies and stuff. Throughout the book I had a hard time with how little it took for Sam to change her tune and this was especially true for me when it came to her interactions with Kent. He was such a likeable character, though, that I found myself rooting for HIM to get what he wanted (Sam) and that made it more enjoyable for me. I don’t think she deserved him, though, and didn’t really see what he saw in her (god, I’m so mean!).

    3) I liked that we got to peek into Lindsay’s psyche and find out why she was so damn evil. She seemed more like the main character than Sam, really. I think a lot of the characters were really well done, particularly those that made me slightly uncomfortable (like Juliet and the creepy teacher). I liked the afternoon she spent with Allison in the bathroom. Wouldn’t it be great if Ms. Oliver continued the Before I Fall universe by writing stories for each character and have each one relive their last day in the same vein? She could make it all short stories in one collection and wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could follow Lindsay into old age and see how she really develops? And how Juliet turns out. I couldn’t help thinking that the way it ended, with Sam sacrificing herself for “dumb, old Juliet”, that the girls would be even MEANER to her (“Why couldn’t you just hang yourself and then maybe Sam would still be here!”). The visit to Juliet’s house and the awkward interactions with her mom and sister made me uncomfortable, but in a good way – I was intrigued!

    4) I don’t know that there is much significance to the Cupid’s Day setting besides just nicely setting the stage for the romance. It also worked really well having the Valentine-Grams (I forget what they called the roses – we had Valentine-Grams at my high school!) to spin off the story of the girls being such bitches to Juliet, introducing Kent’s interest in Sam, and occasionally reminding us how big a deal it was to everyone to be popular.

    5) I wanted to feel more from the interactions between Sam and her family, but they just didn’t do much for me. I like that we got to get a bit of a feel for her mom, but I wasn’t really very touched by anything there. I enjoyed this book for what it was, but in the end I didn’t really LIKE Sam (as if it wasn’t obvious by now!). This book reminded me about some of the more unpleasant memories from high school. Man, I had some Robs in my life and my own best friend who could be Lindsay-style mean, for real. It also reminded me of some things I am grateful for, too, though, like young love and inside jokes and just starting to be an adult. This isn’t the sort of YA book I go for and I would have only picked it up on my own because of the twist of her living her last day over and over. I lean more towards fantasy and LOVE the trend of dystopian stories going on right now, where the “YA”s are not really living YA lives, but are off adventuring or saving the world. So, it was nice to try something new and see a modern teen love/life story. I’ve read so many horrible teen novels in my life (I’m choosy now, but back in the day…did anyone read the stuff from the early 80’s where someone would have a horrible disease, like the dad or the boyfriend or she’d go blind – and the covers were always a photo of some girl with feathered hair sitting at a piano or something…anyone? Just me haha?). Few of them were this high quality of writing and I appreciated the writing style very much. It flowed in a young voice without being cheesy (like the Uglies series).

    Thanks for the opportunity to be a part of such a fun club! I really feel lucky to be in such great company (I know because I’ve stalked you all on Instagram and Twitter!).

    • Hi Jen!

      Thanks for your honest opinions. I hadn’t thought about the book this way. I hear you on Sam being a hard character to like. That first chapter Sam and her friends and the way they treat Juliet at the party–I almost stopped reading it.

      But what changed my mind was seeing how she made mistakes (like sending Juliet a dozen roses) and learned that her empty gestures meant nothing.

      I agree that YA has improved since when I read it when Judy Blume was the only author daring to speak honestly about the teenage experience. Don’t get me wrong. I loved Sweet Valley High, Fear Street, and Babysitters’ Club. But the YA books put are so much more interesting than adult fiction, at least to me.

      I love this discussion! It’s helped me see the book in a new way.

  4. 1) I was actually really touched by Sam’s development throughout the book. I was kinda impatient to find her “nicer” side and to finally fall for Kent, but I have to say – the development was realistic. Think about it – high school for so many people is about the surface – judging people on what they look like, what crowd they’re in, categorizing them to one aspect of their personality. I thought Before I Fall was all about uncovering these layers. When we look at a picture, we see one image. But the more we look at it, the more we notice about the person, the more we see that there’s more to people than just and one dimensional stereotypes. For Sam, she got to look at the last day of her life again and again, learning more about the people around her and most of all, more about herself.
    2) I think one of my favorite chapters were when Sam went wild. This was the chapter when she decided to be totally and utterly reckless – something so many teenagers do. I thought it was incredibly poignant when she has that small fight with Kent at his party and says, “I can’t be fixed” and he tells her “I don’t think you need to be fixed.” That’s how many teenagers feel – that something is fundamentally wrong with them, that they have to adjust themselves to be perfect, to “fit in.” But then Kent tells her the message that every teenager should learn – that you should learn to love yourself, that it’s okay to have flaws.
    3) I actually liked all the characters – even Lindsay. I was able to predict where the characters were going, but again, I liked that characters weren’t black and white. That Lindsay was just the mean girl – she had insecurities just like everyone else in the book and it realistically colored her actions. I do think the women were a bit more textured than the guys , who kept off slightly one- note. I did, of course, adore Kent, who had a lovely relationship with Sam.
    4) To me, Cupid’s Day (Valentine’s Day) is the classic “I’m popular” holiday. We all had the roses, carnations, etc. Everyone counted how many everyone else got. Everyone begged their friends to order them one so they wouldn’t have to be the one person without a flower. But I also think that those flowers so often don’t mean anything or have anything to do with the concepts of friendship or love. I think the book was all about learning what the true value of friendship and love are.
    5) All my favorite moments probably involve Kent. There is a bittersweet quality to her final moments. I do agree that her relationship with her family wasn’t as layered as her friendships with the girls or Kent. I really like Lauren Oliver (having also read her books Delirium and Pandemonium) and I really can’t believe this was her first book.

    • Thanks Celena for your thoughtful
      comments. I love what you wrote about the roses in high school. It seemed like such a big deal.

      For all of their flaws (and those girls were mean!), they had each other.

      I’m curious to read her other books. Are they wildly different than Before I Fall?

  5. The more I think about this story and the experiences it took me through the more I recognize how HORRIBLE some of the things that went on in high school were and I think it’s way worse now (cyber-cruelty, more THINGS to have to try and collect to be accepted, more pressures to do things you know aren’t “right”, and so on). Stuff that would be totally unacceptable in the real world is “just part of growing up” when it comes to the majority of school experiences. If employees in a work place or neighbors were to treat each other the way some high school kids do there’d be legal action and blackballing and ugh, for so many being ruthless and cruel actually gets them ahead. I know it can be that way to some degree in business and real life, but few people in the real world iare getting popular among their colleagues because they’re pantsing the girly dude in the caf! When I think about how miserable the lives of some kids were made to be in high school because of some jock assholes or various mean girls, as an adult looking back…holy crap! I can’t imagine those sorts of crappy things being done to my kid, but they’re done to kids still all the time – kids who get picked on for being poor or gay or ugly or because they said or did one embarrassing thing in third grade. I didn’t have to deal with too much shit throughout my school years, but there were times, horrible times it still sucks to remember, and some awful things that went on with other kids..I can’t believe that we just let them happen. Or that they still happen. Who decided the best way to educate kids and grow them into good people would be to let them all loose together in an environment like the modern school when this sort of bullying and shaming is founds at almost every single one? I think they need to wipe the slate clean (har har) and start over from scratch. At the very least I think the worst thing we can do is not make the people we all think of when we meet characters like Sam and Lindsay be accountable for how they treat people. My mind keeps being blown the more I think about it. I am not a huge fan of the modern school system anyway, but thinking about what hell some kids go through is just breaking my heart. There are some kids I hadn’t thought about in a lot of years who have some really hard memories they have to deal with. It’s just not right.

    • Hi Jen:

      I agree. I think growing up as a teen now, there’s so many more ways to be mean. As a victim of bullying and at times a perpetrator of bullying, it’s a terrible cycle.

      And while Lindsay is a terribly mean person in this book, she also has been a victim of violence (the guy at NYU) so lashing out could be a coping mechanism.

      But it’s definitely scary to think what it must be like in high school nowadays!

      Thanks,
      Jenn

      • Were those typos painful for you? Haha – sorry! I was in a huff.

        The sad thing is that there is almost always a reason people are mean bullies, the same way there is almost always a reason people sexually abuse others. It is a terrible cycle we would do well to try and break instead of just shrugging it off as part of growing up (which is how I fear a lot of sexual abuse is dealt with, too).

  6. Pingback: Virtual YA Book Club: October Selection | Typecraft

  7. I read this book in one sitting, and it was a few weeks ago now, so apologies for perhaps not remembering everything correctly! I really loved this book. Initially, I felt like the “Groundhog Day” construction was going to be tedious, and I was impressed and intrigued when the author spun out the events of the day differently and interestingly. I was also very happy that Sam developed self-awareness as a character; I thought the author did a good job of making her sympathetic, even though initially she wasn’t at all.

    One of my favorite moments in the book is when Sam and Anna connect in the bathroom. It felt like a very true scene to me — how many times in life have you made assumptions about people only to have them stripped away when you actually spend time with or get to know the person? That was very true of me in high school; you (I) would make massive judgements about a person because of what she was wearing or listened to or drove or whatever. But it was always different when you had time to talk and were able to see the world from her perspective.

    I hadn’t thought about the connection to Valentine’s Day, and I’m sure there could be some deeper meaning, but to me, there were other, more powerful themes running through the book.

    I actually hated that she died at the end. It felt like the proper ending, but I really didn’t want it to be. So I found myself pretending that she lived so she could put to use all those great lessons she’d learned.

    Definitely interested in reading Lauren Oliver’s other books now!

    • Thanks Sutton for your thoughtful comments. It’s funny. I didn’t want her to die in the last chapter but at the same time, I think it was time to let her go.

      And you’re right, we often, especially in high school, judge people before we get to know them. I think that could be said for all the characters in the book. At first, you dismiss them as one way but ultimately there’s more to them than just their rep in high school. Like the moment Sam sees how pretty Juliet, even though she’s been treating her like trash.

      That first time they push Juliet around really broke my heart.

      I know Celena’s mentioned that Lauren Oliver’s other books are so different than BIF so I’d be curious to read her newer work.

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