This is my first official foray into YA fiction, that is, since I WAS a young adult. I ended up here after reading (and enjoying far too much) “The Fault in Ours Stars” by John Green. Turns out the YA genre can be quite addictive – certainly far more entertaining from the periphery than it ever was when I was 16 and in the thick of it. It’s kind of like going to the observatory deck of the Bungee to watch people launch themselves head-first into the air. The uncertainty of not knowing if the rope is secure, mixed with the adrenaline of not caring anyway, because F&£* You, this is my life! is a cocktail as attractive as it ever was. As an adult, immersing yourself in YA fiction can give you the opportunity to appreciate the fear and exhilaration of free-falling all over again, from the safety of the cafe with a double shot soy latte and a fudge brownie on the side, thank you very much.
“Before I Fall” begins with (17 year old?) Samantha, who lives out an ordinary day in ground-hog fashion after her life (as she knows it, at least) ends in a fatal car accident. The day after the crash she wakes and experiences what can only be described as Dejavu on speed. Right from the alarm sounding in the morning through the to car crashing around midnight. Is she in heaven? Is she in a coma? Is she just dreaming the whole thing? These are the questions that float around as Sam relives the day, each time learning something not just about the people around her, but more importantly about herself.
Eventually, she comes to see herself as others no doubt see her – as a fairly shallow excuse for a human being. How did she get here? What can she do to change? Is there still time? If she could live the day again, what choices would she make? What would she do differently?
I could have been Drew Barrymore in the film Never Been Kissed (minus the nauseating fluttering lashes and I’m-sucking-on-a-lemon grimace that is), wandering around the school corridors listening in and watching on in ever-sickening wonder. Oliver captures everything from the cliques of bitchy girls to the rapture they feel for boys who are deep down very ugly, and on the surface also rather smelly; Oliver pinpoints the peer pressure, the senseless bullying, the in-group vs the out-group, the tensions at home, the drugs, the low self-esteem, eating disorders, the flow-on effects of divorce, etc, etc. In actual fact, now that I think about it, there’s not a whole lot to get nostalgic about in this book – unless your fondness for shopping, wagging and cheech & chong esque laugh-fests is more profound than is altogether healthy.
Despite the fact that the big themes are likely universal for most teens, culturally and socio-economically at least, I can imagine “Before I Fall” resonating far more with an American audience than it did with me. Having said that, it did make me pause to reflect on more than one occasion on the poor choices I made when I was Sam’s age. And no, I’m not referring to that infamous party I had on the roof. But hey that’s another story…..