Girls are trained to say, ‘I wrote this, but it’s probably really stupid.’ Well, no, you wouldn’t write a novel if you thought it was really stupid. Men are much more comfortable going, ‘I wrote this book because I have a unique perspective that the world needs to hear.’ Girls are taught from the age of seven that if you get a compliment, you don’t go, ‘Thank you’, you go, ‘No, you’re insane.’
— Lena Dunham (via strandedstmarkscitylights)

BEFORE I FALL.

★★★★

Sweet book with a lovely message.

Samantha Kingston dies in a car accident on February 12th, and instead of going on to heaven/hell/whatever comes next, she keeps reliving the same day over and over, through the course of one very weird week.Each day she struggles to figure out what exactly caused her death, and what she can do to fix it and save herself.

Samantha starts out as your typical Mean Girls popular girl: bitchy friends, hot but dumb boyfriend, walking through the halls of her high school in Queen Bee royalty. But as she is forced to keep reliving the same day over and over again, she begins to realize the effect her seemingly irrelevant actions have on others, and how deeply they can effect people around her in the most unexpected of ways. In some ways, the majority of the book is a study on how our lives are defined by the minute choices we never even think twice about.

Samantha’s character development is really well-done. It didn’t ever feel forced, and it easily could have. I HATED her best friend, Lindsey, who never really “gets what she deserves”, but I think the ending of the book is set up in a way that indicates that she soon may be going through a transformation of sorts. Samantha’s developing relationship with Kent is pretty beautiful.

I was really pleasantly surprised by Lauren Oliver’s writing. I honestly wasn’t expecting much from a mean-girls YA with a truly terrible cover. But Oliver has a talent for creating beautiful images and multidimensional characters, and I am definitely planning on reading her dystopian trilogy when I have the chance.

I listened to the audio version of the book, which is also really nicely done. It’s narrated by Sarah Drew, and I spent the first two hours trying to figure out how I knew her voice until I finally Googled her and found out she’s on Grey’s Anatomy now. Small world.

RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA.

This book was one of the biggest disappointments I’ve read in a long time. I like mysteries, I like books about teenagers, I like books that incorporate different kinds of media (e-mails, texts, blog posts, etc.), and I think the book had a good premise: a seemingly-happy fifteen year old girl flings herself off the roof of her fancy, private school, and her mother is determined to figure out why. But it all goes downhill from there.

Amelia is the cliche of the Perfect High School Daughter: she is a star athlete, a straight-A student who would NEVER do anything to seriously disrespect her mother or her crazy best friend or step out of line in any way. Amelia is bland and flat, simply too good for anyone to relate to. She’s so innocent in everything she does, so earnestly good but completely naive. She has literally no obvious flaws, except being “too nice” and letting herself get walked all over. Who wants to read a story about a perfect person? Her mother, Kate, is similarly cliched. She is a high-powered New York lawyer who works crazy hours but remains consistently devoted to her teenaged daughter. She’ll drop everything at her very important meeting to go get her daughter, even though she’ll internally monologue about how stressful it is for three or four paragraphs first. Their relationships is too forced in a Gilmore Girls kind of way…Amelia says things like, “don’t get me wrong I LOVED my mother, even if she was never around”, and Kate talks about how she and Amelia had different special bonding activities every Friday, Saturday and Sunday that neither of them “would EVER cancel on”. They’re too-perfect characters who have to keep reminding us how perfect they both are.

The plot, which had so much potential, is kind of a mess. There are so many useless characters that serve little to no purpose. The plot isn’t intricate enough to require detailed descriptions of Kate’s secretary, all of Amelia’s fellow classmates, the guidance counselor who doesn’t end up helping at all. We learn the names of so, so many characters and then almost all of them are completely irrelevant to the plot. There’s a subplot of Kate coming to terms with her own parents that never pans out, and email exchanges with a guy who teaches English in Ghana that is not even close to relevant by the longest stretch. Why is this book, only four hundred pages, packed with so many irrelevant details and people that end up being utterly pointless?

The most interesting story is the one that’s cut off by Amelia’s death: meek, perfect Amelia is tapped by the Magpies, a not-so-secret club of girls who, as far as the reader can tell, basically just throw parties and talk about how secret their club is. She finds herself really attracted to one of the other girls in the club, and decides to stick with it for a chance to get closer to her, even though the girl that Amelia likes is devoid of any real personality except being “crazy beautiful” and kind of spacey. But the club predictably turns on Amelia and turns her life into the specific kind of living hell only teenagers can inflict on one another. THIS is the meat of the story: Amelia coming to terms with her sexuality, being used by a girl she thinks she’s in love with, and attempting to hold everything together as the other girls try to rip her apart. Amelia’s death is not a catalyst for the story, but a quick ending to the only interesting plot line. This book had the potential to be one of the few really good books about teenage girls coming out and dealing with bullying, but it opted for cheap maybe-murder mystery instead.

I listened to the audio version of this book, and I will say that Khristine Hvam did a good job with the narration. She created a lovely voice for Amelia, even though her Brooklyn police officer accent should maybe be retired.

I really wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. It is deeply unsatisfying in both plot and writing, and I expected so much more from such an interesting idea.