I had heard such raves about Lauren Oliver's new young adult book, Before I Fall, from people both inside and outside the house that I jumped at the chance to have her write something here. The premise for Before I Fall is simply irresistible, especially for a book club book:
What if you had only one day to live? What would you do? Who would you kiss? And how far would you go to save your own life? Samantha Kingston has it all: the world's most crush-worthy boyfriend, three amazing best friends, and first pick of everything at Thomas Jefferson High—from the best table in the cafeteria to the choicest parking spot. Friday, February 12, should be just another day in her charmed life. Instead, it turns out to be her last. Then she gets a second chance. Seven chances, in fact. Reliving her last day during one miraculous week, she will untangle the mystery surrounding her death—and discover the true value of everything she is in danger of losing.
Here Lauren talks about what went into her writing of Before I Fall - questions of choice and action and ambiguity - all necessary traits for a great book club discussion. Read on.
Can people ever change?
That was one of the questions I wanted to address when I began writing my novel, Before I Fall. I've always been interested in themes of transformation and redemption. It's my belief that people aren't fixed--that we, as humans, are constantly reinventing ourselves. If we remain stuck in the same patterns or behaviors, it's because we see ourselves as stuck, fixed.
I wanted to write a book about the unsticking.
The protagonist of my novel, Sam Kingston, is not a sympathetic character at the start of the book. In fact, to be perfectly blunt, she's a bitch. She and her friends--the popular group at Thomas Jefferson High School--are mean, self-absorbed, and shallow, and inured from a perception of their cruelty by a sense of their own entitlement. That's how high school is, in their minds: some people win, other people lose, and there's nothing to be done about it.
Then Sam dies in a car crash; however, she continues to wake up on the day of her death. Reliving her final day over the course of a week, she begins to see herself, and her friends, from a different perspective--one that forces her to reevaluate her long-held assumptions about the way things are, and the way they should be.
Recently, the issue of cruelty in American schools has become sadly more pertinent, and more visible. Sam's journey--over the course of my novel--is one of discovery: she discovers both her interconnectedness to the people around her, and develops, for the first time, a meaningful connection to her own life, to its daily rituals, to the choices she makes. Actually, to a certain extent she discovers choice, period. She learns how to act voluntarily, freed from the pressures and expectations of others; she learns to distinguish what she wants from what others want for her, what feels right from what others say is right.
It is, to a large extent, a book about the power of human choice and action. I think that when people feel constrained, penned in, and trapped, either physically or psychologically, they lash out and behave their worst. In laboratory studies, when rats that had become addicted to heroin (to the extent that the animals would choose the drug over food, and so starve to death) were placed not in bare cages, but in spaces filled with toys and stimulation, they weaned themselves off the drug. Similarly, we need space, richness, growth: a landscape in which to feel as though our actions have meaning and our decisions consequence. Because our decisions do have consequence, and not just for ourselves.
In Before I Fall, I hope I've written a book that makes people want to talk, and share, and discuss. Recently a blogger wrote me that although she wasn't sure she'd liked my book, she couldn't get it out of her head, and wanted all of her friends to read it so she could discuss it with them; I took that as an enormous compliment. I like my books like I like my boyfriends--only the ones that make you think (even if they can sometimes be difficult) are worth the energy.
I've also received a lot of messages about the end of my novel, which some readers have complained is too ambiguous. They ask me to clarify the ending, and beg to know what happens to the characters after the last page. But I like ambiguous endings. I feel they're more honest, first of all, and more reflective of real life. In real life, endings are very rarely cut-and-dry, messages may take years to absorb, and symbols are confusing and difficult to interpret.
And more than that, ambiguous endings allow for a different, and deeper, form of communion between the reader and the material. They force readers to interpret, and think, and engage. If reading is a conversation, ambiguity is an open-ended question.
So if you read Before I Fall, I hope you find questions there. And, above all, I hope you are inspired to respond.
Browse inside Before I Fall, check out the reading group guide, visit Lauren Oliver's website and her blog, follow her on Twitter, become a friend on Facebook and finally, watch the book trailer below!