Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (2010)
Samantha is living the life every teenager wants. She's friends with the most popular girls in school, she's dating her dream boyfriend, goes to lots of parties, even gets along well with her parents and little sister. But when she is involved in a fatal accident, she has the opportunity to learn just how much she had going for her and, hopefully, a chance to save her own life.
Lauren Oliver took a big risk with the Groundhog Day-like theme (and indeed referenced that movie early on), and she pulls it off amazingly well. It's not repetitive at all since Samantha is making changes every day; the focus is on those changes and how it affects the outcome and what Samantha learns from that.
Before I Fall contains one of the best examples of character development I've read in young adult lit. Usually a novel contains one major event or problem from which the character learns and grows, but here Samantha has the opportunity to go through SO many changes. One day she does all kinds of crazy things without regard for the consequences (like trying to seduce her math teacher), and other day she skips school entirely and hangs out with her little sister. She learns a great deal about herself and her friends each day, and watching the resulting metamorphosis is what this book is all about.
I liked the complexity of the supporting cast as well. Samantha, Lindsay, Ally, and Elody are popular girls, they pick on the less popular kids, they are pretty much bitches, but at the same time you can totally see why they are all friends - you see their good qualities, their loyalty, their humor and sense of fun. As the novel progresses, we learn more about Samantha's friends and realize that although it's tempting to think they're bad people, it's not that simple. They are plagued by fears and insecurities and practicing the only sort of self-preservation they know. (Ok, I still think Lindsay is a bitch, but she's a complicated bitch.)
Also, Kent! He is the dorky, but really adorable, boy who has had a crush on Sam for years but who she always thought was a loser until she got to know him a little more, and matured enough to stop being so judgmental. (And realized what a jerk her boyfriend was.) Their budding romance was very swoonworthy.
My only qualm at all was with the ending. Samantha relives the day over and over because there is a way that it is SUPPOSED to go, and she had to do everything right to get this day to stop repeating. But I don't understand why that way is the right away. I don't believe in fate or destiny at all though, so I'm probably the wrong person to complain about that.
Although it was 470 pages, this novel is fast-paced and easy to just sink into. Written in a very conversational tone, it feels light even though there's a great deal of personal change, self-discovery, and tragedy. Highly recommended!