Book BFFS: Before I Fall and Life After Theft
‘Sup readers? Author Lauren Oliver has been entertaining bookworms for years, and the fact that her debut novel, Before I Fall, is finally becoming a major motion picture is kind of amazing. In true Book BFF tradition, of course, I’ve found a book to pair it with— actually, I found six books, but in the interest of writing an article you can actually get through, I narrowed it down to one.
I read Before I Fall shortly after devouring the title novel in Oliver’s Delirium trilogy (I’m still bitter about that “open” ending, and no, I don’t wanna talk about it. I mean, I kind of do, but strictly in the “vent about it” way), and Before I Fall was so different to everything I’d read up to that point, I was bowled over. As a teen, mortality isn’t really something you like contemplating— so you don’t. Most books being marketed towards young adults in those days (*adjusts the phantom denchers I feel sliding over my real teeth as I realize I am getting old*) were dystopian in nature, or otherwise about falling in love with some kind of otherworldly being, or just plain weird. There were many that made waves for being original or daringly inclusive (at the time), but Before I Fall left a mark. If you want to watch the movie or read the book, spoiler-free, now would be your cue to exit this page, and maybe ruminate over who should play Dick Grayson in the freshly-announced, Chris McKay-directed Nightwing. Seriously, I’m about to elaborate on why Before I Fall was such a page-turner, which means directly spoiling the ending, and I don’t want to ruin your enjoyment of it.
At the beginning of the novel, main character Sam is flat-out unlikable, and you idly wonder if maybe her death wasn’t the worst thing that could have happened: she’s stereotypically self-involved (mean streak included), obsessed with image, her idiot boyfriend, her friends, and the social hierarchy. February 12th— Cupid Day at her school— should be just another breezy day in her charmed life, but it’s her last. Sam continues to repeat the events leading up to her death, discovering that every little change she makes directly impacts not only her, but the people around her. Things like spending time with her family, or reconnecting with an old friend who used to be her constant, but now sits far lower on the social totem pole, and so, rarely merits (positive) attention from Sam or her new set of gal pals. It’s like Groundhog Day, with way more emotional investment.
SPOILERS (after this clip):
In Sam, Oliver took a flaky teen and stripped away the layers of “cool” she’d wrapped around herself to survive high school. She aimed for emotional and raw and hit a bullseye; this was Oliver’s first book, and a multi-award-winner, at that. But the thing that made Before I Fall unforgettable was the fact that the main character died— and stayed dead. All throughout the book, you’re waiting for something, someone, to change Sam’s fate. She’s realized what matters to her and what doesn’t; she’s not just some nasty girl looking to humiliate and berate those around her anymore. She’s a good person, and she deserves the chance to let that shine through. But she doesn’t get the chance, and as a teen (especially if death has never been an issue close to home), you’re expecting someone to come to her rescue. When no one does, you’re suddenly struck by how unfair it is. /END SPOILERS.
Before I Fall is magnetic, demanding your attention to the very last word. It’s an emotional journey of sorts, so it’s only fair that the chosen BFF be a little more lighthearted.
What you should read next:
It was really hard for me to choose which book would best compliment Before I Fall, because (disturbingly) there are a lot of books with deceased protagonists (I swear, I don’t go looking for these). Eventually, though, Life After Theft by Aprilynne Pike (if her name sounds familiar, it’s because she wrote the Wings series) won out. Life After Theft— according to Goodreads, it’s a retelling of The Scarlet Pimpernel— follows transfer student, Jeff. He’s not exactly enthused with his family’s move from Phoenix to California, and when he meets the hot but slightly psychotic Kimberlee (she gets all freaked over the fact that he can actually see her) his life gets a whole lot weirder. It turns out that Kimberlee isn’t actually suffering from dangerously low self-esteem, she’s a ghost, and no one has been able to see her since her untimely death— lucky Jeff, he’s the exception to the rule. Kimberlee is convinced that she has “unfinished” business left on earth, because of course, not only was she reigning HBIC at the high school during her lifetime, she was also a kleptomaniac. Convinced that her “unfinished business,” entails returning the unlawfully-seized goods, Kimberlee convinces (more like annoys and threatens) Jeff to help her. Kimberlee might be dead, but her catty personality is alive and well, and when Jeff starts falling for her (living, breathing) enemy, Kimberlee proves she can still manipulate people from beyond the grave.
How they’re similar:
Honestly, the big thing going for both of them is that both Sam and Kimberlee are dead, and while living, they were both categorical witches (and not in the fun “magic-powers” way) to the people around them. Even after death, Kimberlee is pretty reviled— with good reason— but with that status comes awareness of who they are. No one is perfect, and being dead doesn’t automatically negate a person’s flaws. Importantly, both novels deal with bullying (strangely, Before I Fall engenders annoyance with the victim, while Life After Theft leaves the perpetrator with all of the blame. I think I prefer the latter; there were times I felt sorry for Juliet, but overall, her reckless, selfish behaviour irked me, and I remember that frustration from the first time I read it as a teen, which has not faded one iota. It’s kind of ironic, considering being “reckless” and “selfish” were both traits of Sam’s that I hated initially).
How they’re different:
Sam is the narrator of Before I Fall, while both Jeff and Kimberlee take turns in Life After Theft. Before I Fall explores the far-spinning impact of death and what it means to live, and readers were able to experience Sam’s metamorphosis with her, which makes her eventual fate all the more distressing. On the other hand, Kimberlee is a pretty consistent character throughout— she is who she is, rarely admitting her mistakes or faults, even when faced with them. Deep down, she has the potential to be nice, but rarely shows it off. Sam is trapped in an endless loop of the events leading up to her death as she learns her lessons— a feat that took extraordinary creativity on Oliver’s part, as each day was the same, but definitively not— Kimberlee is bound to the land of the living, hell-bent on finishing what she believes is her “unfinished business” before she can move on.
Why you should read Life After Theft:
Life After Theft is a little more fun than Before I Fall— perhaps because of how abrasive and unapologetic Kimberlee is— but there are times when you will be genuinely angry with her lack of decency towards other people (especially Sera). Jeff, though, is a good guy with the best intentions, a good head on his shoulders, and the drive to help. He brings out the better side of Kimberlee, and through him, her “ice queen,” act melts, revealing an ordinary (if extra snarly) teenage girl with klepto tendencies. They balance each other out, with Jeff forcing Kimberlee to take ownership not just for her sass and spite, but the consequences of her bad behaviour. Still, it’s got less of a sting than Before I Fall, and we could probably all use a break from the emotional turmoil.
If Life After Theft sounds like your cup of tea, you can snag yourself a copy here. Before I Fall hits theatres March 2nd, 2017.