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