Feel free to re-live this episode as many times as you want! In Episode 15, Bryan and Robert take on Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver.
Bryan’s quick summary:
Samantha Kingston is at the top of the popularity food chain, running her high school with an iron fist, along with her best friends. At least, until a horrible accident leaves her dead. When she wakes up the next day without a scratch on her, Sam realizes that only she can choose how to live her final 24 hours. The changes she makes could affect many more lives than her own.
Before I Fall is by Lauren Oliver.
So what did we think? (From a reader’s perspective)
1. (Bryan) Talk about an arc. Not just for a character but for an entire book. We kind of start in one genre and then go swinging into another, and it really nailed the transition. It’s spiritual without being too overt. It’s inspiring without being hammy. Of the 15 books we’ve read for this show, this is probably the one I’m the most likely to re-read.
2. (Robert) I hated the first 25% of the book, and if it wasn’t for this show, I would have stopped reading it. I’m glad I didn’t, as it turned into a beautifully profound portrayal of the shallow behaviors and ideas or senior school, and the subsequent issues confronting teenage girls as they become women. I loved the snarky dialog!
3. (Robert) There’s plenty of not-suitable-for-young-readers content in this story, I’d recommend ages 15+. Also anyone not comfortable with alcohol or drug portrayal should avoid the book completely, although in my opinion, Oliver deals with it honestly. It’s entirely possible that for many, sadly this IS an accurate representation of an “average” school.
What did we think from a writer’s perspective?
1. (Bryan) Talk about detail. From the type of bagels the girls eat on the way to school to the smoker’s alley passageway behind the building. There are several improv games that center around playing the same scene in a different style or in a shorter amount of time, and detail is very important when you’re setting up your foundation. Oliver made such a strong base detail-wise, character-wise, etc., that the “replays” of the scenes remained captivating, and probably got even stronger as the book went on.
2. (Robert) I thought Sam’s character arc was amazing! The author apparently said this: “I have two hopes for you as you begin to read Before I Fall. The first is simply this: I hope that in the beginning, you do not like the main character, Samantha, or her three best friends. I hope you find them mean, petty, self-absorbed, and superficial.” This was so true for me, I initially had trouble moving through the story, but kudos to Oliver for managing to write such a powerful and believable arc.
3. (Robert) The first 25% was so disturbing to me (the snarky, ugly, nasty, horrible clique of “popular girls”, and I could not find any empathy for any of the characters, let alone the protagonist. I think this is a problem, and I would suggest the absence of a strong “save the cat” moment is the one flaw.
Bryan and Robert’s Famous Takeaways:
1. If you’re going to set a book in high school, make sure you pay close attention to the dialogue. Oliver’s was spot on.
2. There’s a lot to like about the realistic portrayal of teenage preoccupations; drinking behavior; parties, and the “in and out crowd” that shows an author’s keen study of this defining time in life – and in Sam’s case, how her repeated experience re-defines it for her, and for us.
3. The characters are well-differentiated, and enjoyable for their differences. Not only that, Oliver manages to have us gradually realize things about each character through Sam’s observations. Masterful.
Prompt of the Week:
You’ve replayed the same day over for an entire week. How does your seventh replay of the day differ from your first? What do you think you’d learn along the way?