Before I Fall Summary
Before I fall is a novel by Lauren Oliver in which Sam Kingston relives the day of her own death and reflects on how her cruel actions have impacted others.
- On February 12th, Sam and her friends ruthlessly bully Juliet Sykes. Juliet then commits suicide by jumping in front of their car, resulting in the deaths of Juliet and the car's passengers.
- Sam relives the events of February 12th several times. At first, she tries to save her own life. However, she eventually realizes that Juliet is the real victim.
- Sam atones for her actions by sacrificing herself in order to save Juliet.
Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2480
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...
(The entire section contains 2480 words.)
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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.
At two o’clock in the morning, Ally’s mother comes in and tells the girls that Juliet Sykes has killed herself. The girls fight about whether their bullying was partly responsible for the suicide. Lindsay claims that she does not feel guilty, and Ally and Elody stalk out of the room in disgust. Sam stays with Lindsay, but she cannot sleep. She goes downstairs to find Ally’s old yearbooks. Looking at the pictures from early elementary school, she realizes that Juliet and Lindsay used to be best friends. Their friendship appears to have ended in fifth grade, the year Juliet earned the nickname Mellow Yellow by wetting her bed at camp.
Sam wakes up on Friday, February 12, again. When she realizes that she has not escaped her death, she is angry. She feels like everyone around her is guilty but she is the only person paying for it. On the way to school, she picks a vicious fight with Lindsay, who refuses to speak to her from then on. All day, Sam acts like she does not care about anyone or anything. She throws away her Cupid Day roses, makes out with her math teacher, and smokes pot with Anna Cartullo. After school she steals her father’s credit card and uses it to give herself a makeover for Kent’s party. At the party, she finds Rob—who is extremely drunk once again—and pushes him into an empty bedroom. She tries to have sex with him, but he passes out.
After this humiliation, Sam makes her way into an empty part of Kent’s house and cries. When she recovers herself, she realizes that Kent is watching her. Back in elementary school, she and Kent used to be friends—two outsiders who stuck up for each other. Now that she is popular, he has a crush on her, and she avoids him. She asks him if she can stay with him. He gives her pajamas and a blanket, and he lets her sleep in his bed. He acts tender and sweet, the opposite of the insensitive Rob.
Sam is not surprised when she wakes up on February 12 yet again. She thinks about all the things she would like to do in her life, and she starts by convincing her mother to let both her and her sister stay home from school. She shows Izzy a spot in the woods where she used to hide when she was an outcast kid. Izzy, a third grader, is somewhat unpopular but does not seem to care. Unlike Sam, she is more interested in being herself than in being liked.
In the evening, Sam goes out to dinner with her family instead of going out with her friends. At the restaurant, she sees a group of sophomores hanging out and eating together. Sam realizes that one of them is Juliet Sykes’s little sister. Suddenly it hits Sam that Juliet has a family who will grieve for her after her death. Sam decides she needs to try to stop Juliet’s suicide. She thinks:
I realize I’ve never really done something good for someone else, at least not for a while.... This will be my good thing.
Sam does not find Juliet at Kent’s house, but she does find her by the road out front. They talk but Sam is too late to convince Juliet not to kill herself. Juliet leaps in front of a car—Lindsay’s car—and gets run over. Sam realizes that this was the cause of the crash that killed her the first time. The last thing she heard Lindsay say during the crash was “Sykes.”
Juliet dies instantly from the crash. So does Elody, who was riding shotgun in Sam’s absence. Sam sits shivering by the side of the road, absorbed in shock and grief, until Kent takes her back to his house. He gives her hot chocolate and pajamas and puts her to bed. As she falls asleep, he gives her a soft, gentle kiss on the forehead.
This time when Sam wakes up on February 12, she is happy to have a chance to relive the day. Elody is not dead. Even Juliet might have a chance. Sam is determined to get the day right this time—and to survive it if possible. In the morning at school, she tries to be kind to Juliet, and she erases some cruel graffiti about Anna Cartullo. When she has done this, she thinks:
It feels like I’ve reached back in time and corrected something. I haven’t felt so alive, so capable of doing things, in I don’t know how long.
Sam goes to the party with her friends. This time she offers to be the designated driver. Lindsay teases her about this, saying it makes the night “like an after-school special,” but Sam does not back down. When Juliet arrives at the party, Sam takes her into a bathroom and says that Juliet should not feel bad about all the teasing; people just do it thoughtlessly. Juliet lists off all the horrible abuses Sam and Lindsay have committed against her over the years. Then she explains how the teasing started. Juliet and Lindsay were best friends until fifth grade, when Lindsay wet her bed at camp. When the camp counselor discovered the wet sleeping bag, Lindsay blamed it on Juliet. Afterward Lindsay teased Juliet about the incident for the rest of the year. Sam asks why Juliet never told everyone the truth, and Juliet says:
She was my best friend, you know? She was always so sad back then.... Besides...I thought it would pass.
This conversation does not have the result Sam hopes. If Juliet gets any relief from it at all, it is too little, too late. She runs out to the road, and Sam follows. Assuming that Juliet is purposely waiting for Lindsay’s car to pass, Sam tries to continue talking. However, Juliet does not care whose car kills her. She leaps in front of a passing van instead.
Later Sam drives Lindsay home. On the way, she confesses that she knows about the bedwetting incident in fifth grade. She says she understands why Lindsay pawned the blame off on Juliet in that moment, when she was scared, but she does not understand why Lindsay kept pressing the issue for the rest of the year. Lindsay says:
I thought eventually she’d tell everybody what really happened.... Why didn’t she ever stick up for herself? Not once. She just—she just took it. Why?
Sam tells Lindsay people would have liked her anyway, and Lindsay thanks her. Sam leaves Lindsay’s car where it is and lets Kent drive her home. They finally have a real kiss. Sam thinks it is the best kiss she has ever had.
The seventh and last time Sam wakes up on February 12, she accepts that she cannot both redeem herself and survive the day. In the morning, she tells her parents she loves them, and she gives a special necklace to Izzy. As the day’s events pass, she feels happy but detached. She breaks up with Rob, flirts with Kent, and treats both Juliet Sykes and Anna Cartullo with respect. Her friends think she is going crazy.
Again Sam refuses to drink at the party. She insists on dropping her friends off and then driving Lindsay’s car back to Lindsay’s house to make sure it is not involved in a crash. Sam has arranged for Kent to give her a ride back to the party, and her mixture of friendliness and mysteriousness confuses him. She kisses him, just to make sure they get to do it once.
When Juliet arrives at the party, Sam takes her aside and apologizes for being so cruel for so many years. She explains that she knows what is going on, and she refuses to leave Juliet’s side. Again the two of them end up by the side of the road, but this time when Juliet leaps in front of the van, Sam leaps out too and pushes Juliet to safety. The van hits Sam. This time as she dies, she sees what she is supposed to see: her greatest achievements, not her greatest regrets.