Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall begins with Sam Kingston’s death. Sam tells her three friends—Lindsay, Elody, and Ally—that she thinks people probably see the greatest moments of their life flash before their eyes when they die. Then Lindsay crashes her car, and Sam sees something else entirely: a moment in fourth grade when she, Lindsay, and several other kids made fun of a fat girl. That image floats in front of her through the pain and fear and fire—and then there is nothing.
The story flashes back to the last day of Sam’s life. In the morning, she rushes out of the house, pushing her little sister aside as she goes. Sam rides to school with her three best friends. Led by Lindsay, these four girls are the most popular seniors at school, and they can get away with anything. Today is Cupid Day, a school Valentine’s Day event. They each receive roses from all of their friends, and they are all proud that they have collected more roses than most of their classmates have.
Cruelty has been a part of Lindsay and Sam’s relationship since elementary school, when Sam was one of Lindsay’s many targets. Since the two girls became friends in seventh grade, Sam has gone along with every cruel inspiration her friend has dreamt up. Today she participates in teasing Amy Cartullo for being “white trash” and “a whore.” She also taunts Juliet Sykes, Lindsay’s oldest and most consistent victim, for being a friendless “psycho.”
During school, Sam receives a rose and a party invitation from Kent, a geek who has had a crush on her for years. In the evening, she and her friends get drunk and go to the party. Juliet Sykes stalks up to them and says, “You’re a bitch,” to each of the girls in turn. The four girls are momentarily stunned because Juliet has never fought them before. Then Lindsay shoves Juliet, and everyone else in the room rushes to copy her. They shove Juliet back and forth and pour out their drinks on her. Kent sees this happening, and he is obviously disgusted.
Sam had plans to lose her virginity tonight with her boyfriend, Rob, but Rob is throwing up in Kent’s sink, so Sam leaves with her friends. Lindsay drives, and Sam rides shotgun. She and the others shove each other around, jostling for space and access to the radio. Then Lindsay says something Sam does not quite hear—“like s**t or sit or sight”—and the car spins out of control. Sam hears a loud noise and feels heat and “pain bigger than anything.” Before everything goes black, she spends a few seconds feeling regret about that moment back in fourth grade.
Sam has a dream that she is falling. She is terrified—but then she hears her alarm. She sits up in bed, shocked and shaking, wondering how she got home after the crash. Then she learns from her little sister, Izzy, that it is not Saturday, February 13, the day after the crash. It is Friday, February 12. It is a day she already lived—the day she died.
Sam worries that people will think she is crazy if she confesses what is going on, so she tries to go through the day as usual. She pursues her day the same way, including teasing Juliet and Anna. However, she is more reflective this time, and she notices that other kids copy Lindsay’s bullying. Also, now that she knows how the night will turn out, she admits to herself that she does not like Rob as much as she pretends to. She had a crush on him for years before they began going out, but now that they are together she finds him boring and self-absorbed. He is also a terrible kisser.
Sam and her friends get ready at Ally’s house before going to Kent’s party. Sam reflects that her friends do not talk about their problems and weaknesses. Nobody ever mentions that Lindsay lost her virginity in a drunken one-night stand. They do not discuss how Ally avoids eating or how Sam used to be unpopular. Unfortunately, this tacit agreement not to talk seriously sometimes extends to subjects Sam would like to discuss. She takes Lindsay aside to talk seriously about sex, but Lindsay makes a joke of the moment.
On her second trip to Kent’s party, Sam is a bit more tense with Rob. She plays the same role in tormenting Juliet Sykes, and when it is time to leave, she takes her place in the front seat of Lindsay’s car. She is terrified and repeatedly asks her friends if they are wearing their seatbelts. She tries to grab the wheel whenever Lindsay swerves. But the moment of the crash arrives. Lindsay says “something like sit or s**t or sight,” and the car spins out of control. Again Sam sees a rush of images, and then she sees nothing.
Again Sam dreams she is falling. Again she wakes up on Friday, February 12. This time she lets herself face the possibility that the car accidents were real and that she is dead. She stays in bed for a few hours. Eventually, though, it occurs to her that she might still have a chance to save herself. She goes to school late. Today Sam avoids an opportunity to bully Anna. She also asks why Lindsay hates Juliet, but Lindsay refuses to give a straight answer. In the afternoon, Sam bumps into Lauren, a girl from her chemistry class. Sam has been cheating off of Lauren’s work, but the teachers think Lauren is the cheater. Lauren begs Sam to explain what has happened, but Sam refuses. She rushes away, thinking:
It feels like I’ve been caught up in some enormous web and every way I turn I see that I’m stuck to someone else, all of us wriggling around in the same net. And I don’t want to know any of it. It’s not my problem. I don’t care.
Instead of facing the consequences of her actions, Sam stakes all her hopes on avoiding the car accident. She convinces her girlfriends to stay in and have a slumber party at Ally’s house. Her friends complain that it is crazy to waste a weekend night staying in, but they go along with her plan when she insists. They drink wine and eat sushi, and eventually they all go to bed....
(The entire section is 2480 words.)