Before I Fall

Book review by
Debra Bogart, Common Sense Media
Before I Fall Book Poster Image
From suicide to bullying, every tough teen topic is present.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 11 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 48 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value
Positive messages

Strong storyline about the devastating effects of bullying, how a suicide impacts everyone, that negative social behavior can have far-reaching consequences, and that teens can change the way they treat one another.

Positive role models & representations

By the end of the story Sam acknowledges that she wants to be remembered well when she dies and works to correct some her more damaging actions. Whether she changes her actions for altruistic reasons is never fully clear, but she does attempt to change. Her friend Kent is a strongly positive character who supports and accepts her. Most of the adult characters are negative role models, either teachers with bad behavior or parents who neglect or enable their kids to drink.

Violence

Suicide by gunshot; suicide attempts by walking into traffic; there is a mild fight between some teen girls at a party.

Sex

Sam, the main character, has decided to have sex with her boyfriend of a few months to "get it over with"; some frank discussions with her best friends about what it will be like, if it will be painful, if she should be in love;  her friends give her condoms to use for her first time; two of her three best friends are no longer virgins. Sam seduces one of her teachers but stops after kissing and being fondled by him; some kissing between Sam and another boy. Two married teachers are observed making out in a locked room.

Language

Sam and her friends frequently use mild swear words including "s--t," "Jesus," "bitch," "pissed," and  "hell."

Consumerism

Frequent naming of brands: Victoria's Secret, Steve Madden, iPod, BMS, Body Shop, etc.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

Sam and her friends drink frequently and take vodka with them to most events; Sam gets drunk to help her go through with sex for the first time; they attend frequent keggers and it's acknowledged that there is nothing to do at their high school besides drink; her boyfriend gets so drunk he passes out. One girl smokes pot in a school restroom. Sam's best friend Lindsay smokes cigarettes constantly.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the hook of this popular teen novel is that the main character discovers she's dead after a car accident and that she can relive and study the 24 hours before in detail. Just like the movie Groundhog Day, she indulges in some consequence-free behaviors for the fun of it -- drinking, hooking up with a teacher -- and must go from a very unpleasant person (popular "It" girl everyone secretly hates) to a better person by the end. Teens drink heavily in this novel, the main character contemplates having sex with her boyfriend ("to get it over with") at length, and heavy issues like bullying, suicide, bulimia, anorexia, and abuse are graphically uncovered throughout the story.

User Reviews

Parent of a 10, 12, and 18+ year old Written byMDmomof3 October 6, 2012

Be aware

Just started this title and am pre-reading for my middle school daughter. Trying to find some titles she might enjoy to foster a love of reading for pleasure. F... Continue reading
Educator and Parent Written bysuper_momy_4646 January 14, 2013

:)

i think it is truely a amazing book it gives preteens a valuebul leason
Kid, 12 years old October 15, 2010

AMAZING Book!! :D

I loved this book!!!!! It had a lot of sexual things and teen drinking in it. But I thought it had a great message about how bullying can really affect people i... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bySlipperyQ June 8, 2011

Fearless

This book is one I hold close to my heart, for sure. And there's a good, personal reason for that- there's one big part of this book people look over.... Continue reading

What's the story?

Samantha and her three best friends are the "It" girls at Thomas Jefferson High School. It’s Cupid Day of their senior year, but more importantly, it’s the day Samantha has decided to lose her virginity with her boyfriend, Rob. After a party that night, a fatal car accident interrupts Sam’s plans. It takes a day or two of reliving those same 24 hours before Sam realizes she must be dead, or in limbo of some kind; she notices that she can alter her actions and their repercussions -- but can she save her own life?

Is it any good?

Oliver vividly draws a picture of the devastating damage done by bullying, while exploring the ease with which some teens turn a blind eye to such behavior. Watching one's self, or reliving death, is not a new concept in young adult literature, and here the tough issues inherent in the topic are bandied about as often as teens talk keggers and designer duds. But the author does a nice job of exploring the decision to lose one's virginity; and also discovering that all actions have consequences -- although Sam and her friends might be a little old to be making that particular discovery.

The treatment of bullying and its impact, the motivations behind the bullying, and the reasons other kids tacitly accept it is one topic that can't be portrayed too often in books for teens and Oliver gives it a great twist by not trying to make Sam and her friends likable from the start. Her perspective makes the book more realistic and immediate, and makes Sam's ultimate bid for redemption stronger and sadder. The suicide of a classmate is searingly explored and will be the most memorable aspect of the book.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about bullying and the perception that these days, more girls bully than boys. Have you observed that at your school? How is bullying treated by your friends? Have you been bullied?

  • What advice would you give someone who has been bullied? What do you think your favorite teacher would do if you went to them about being bullied?

  • Does verbal abuse or taunting do as much damage as physical bullying, or being beat up, would do?

  • What was the most important thing that Sam learned?

  • Would you have tried to change something other than Sam if you had the chance to? If you knew it was your last day to live, what would you choose to do?

Book details

For kids who love mature dramas and school stories

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