Monthly Archives: December 2014

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

beforeifallI bought Before I Fall on a whim at this year’s Texas Teen Book Festival. I remember being briefly intrigued by the synopsis on the back–it sounded fun and Our Town-esque. A cruel, popular girl is tortured by reliving her last day over and over again until she figures out what really happens. Boy am I glad I bought and read this book.

*warning: spoilers ahead*

Sam’s first last day, a good 60-70 pages of the book, are almost absolute torture. Sam is your almost your typical air-brained, popular girl. At least on the surface. Her inner thoughts reveal her to be not as cruel as her best friend Lindsay, but completely careless and so wrapped up in her Mean Girl lifestyle and her achievement of going from class outcast to dating one of the most popular guys in school. That being said, even Sam wavers on whether she likes him or not and where exactly Lindsay’s grudges come from.

But from the very beginning you know that Sam has actually died in a car accident. She realizes that she is dead, but wakes up to find herself reliving her last day again. At first she thinks, hopes, that it’s just a dream and that she’ll wake up and move on to real death…or keep on living.

However, Sam wakes up on the same day again–and begins to realize she is stuck in some sort of Groundhog Day Purgatory. Sam then begins to discover, to notice things about her life that she never had before. Like how much she loves her parents and little sister, although she has shut them out for years. How wonderful it is to have best friends, even if they are sometimes cruel and sometimes wonderfully kind. Even if they’re broken and afraid and will never be perfect. Sam also realizes how much she loathes her boyfriend and what a bore he is. She also discovers true love. Y’all, I am a sucker for a good, well-written, and surprising love story. Although the reader can kind of tell Sam and Kent have something going on from the beginning, Sam doesn’t realize the chemistry there until later on. I could probably write an essay about how much I love the romance in this book. It is not your typical YA instant-love-connection (here’s a feisty heroine and here’s a tall, handsome, pouty male protagonist–boom they’re in love!). Instead, it takes time, it’s sweet, and reminded me of the romance from the movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Finding true love just a little too late.

Sam is also hoping it’s not too late to right some of the wrongs in her life–including potentially saving a person’s life.

This was an incredible book–I think this one belongs in my permanent book collection, even though I have long since run out of space!

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Clariel by Garth Nix

clarielClariel is a prequel to Garth Nix’s Abhorsen series. It chronicles events that happened about six hundred years before Sabirel. Clariel has one dream, one goal–to live in the Great Forest that is her home and be a Borderer (basically Old Kingdom park rangers). But no one takes her goal seriously. Her parents have relocated to the city of Belisaere to schmooze with highfalutin folks (Clariel, is, after all, a close cousin of the King and the granddaughter of the Abhorsen). Her mother, Jaciel, mostly ignores her child and better half to make pretty gold things. While Clariel’s father takes care of the administrative/business duties. Neither one of them seem to care about what Clariel wants. Clariel attempts to do what she can, both to honor her parents, but also to achieve her dream of being free in the Great Forest. Disasters happen, both as a result of her obedience and her defiance. One thing is for sure, after moving away from her beloved forest, Clariel will never be the same. One of my favorite quotes (which also makes an appearance in the other books in the series): “Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”

Other reviews have called Clariel a failed tragedy, but I disagree. I don’t see this novel as a failure at all. Clariel is an extremely nuanced, complicated protagonist. I love that about her. I love that she is not a straightforward heroine. Don’t get me wrong, I love rooting for the straightforward heroine. If she’s interesting and well-written. Clariel is both. But from the very beginning the reader can see how confusing it is to be in her own mind. Free Magic or Charter Magic? Good or Evil? Kind or Cruel? Clariel is both…all of these things. She’s extremely multidimensional forĀ  a character who has one simple desire, one simple passion. I don’t think the cover artist could have chosen a better tagline: “A passion thwarted will often go astray.” One of the characters also says this towards the end of the novel, after Clariel has made some life-altering decisions. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be best friends with Clariel the way I did with Sabriel. I didn’t see a kindred soul in Clariel the way I did in Lirael. Clariel is sometimes tough to like. But to me the story and the characterization didn’t disappoint. I recommend this book and the entire Abhorsen series to anyone who loves fantasy, particularly fantasy that sometimes reads more like historical fiction or realism.

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