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31 Days of Authors: Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver (a 2011 Teens’ Top Ten winner)

Teen Read Week was October 16th through the 22nd, but here at The Hub, we’re celebrating all month long with 31 Days of Authors. On each day in October, we’ll bring you exclusive author interviews and profiles plus reflections on what YALSA-recognized books have meant to us. Today we feature Lauren Oliver, whose book Before I Fall is #9 on this year’s Teens’ Top Ten list.

For today’s post, I was lucky to interview Lauren Oliver. Her debut novel, Before I Fall, is number nine on this year’s Teens’ Top Ten list. It’s a gripping story of a girl who is relieving the last day of her life over and over. Oliver’s second novel, Delirium, is the first of a dystopian trilogy set in a world where love itself been outlawed. She also just released her first middle grade novel, Liesl & Po.

In some ways, the premise behind Before I Fall–living one day over and over–has been done before, yet by ending the day (at least the first one) with Sam’s death, you totally raise the stakes. Can you talk a little bit about your inspiration for the book?

I wanted to write a book about a mean girl, self-involved, kind of petty, who gets the opportunity to reevaluate her actions from a variety of perspectives. The fact that Samantha dies and then relives her last day enabled me to do that. I’ve always been interested in the mean girl phenomena and in themes of change and redemption—and ultimately, even though Before I Fall has a very strong narrative structure, I do see it as a character-driven book about change. I had the idea for the character, and the character’s development, first; the after-death thing was almost incidental. Additionally, I used to spend a lot of time trying to imagine, in as much detail as possible, a “perfect” day: the kind of day I wouldn’t mind reliving forever. So I’ve always been curious about the idea, about how we might shape our lives if given the opportunity to live really mindfully, with a fuller understanding of the implications of our actions and all of the choices available to us within a single short span of time.

One of the things I most appreciated about Before I Fall was the characters’ complexity. Sam and her friends don’t start out particularly likable, yet by the end of the book, I felt that I could relate to each of them. Delirium was the same way. How do you go about creating that complexity for your characters?

I think it’s important to know your character’s wants and also their driving needs, and to understand that those two things might be in conflict. In real life, people are complex. They are hypocritical; they are liars without meaning to be. They fool others, but most of all, they misunderstand themselves. Characters are like that too. So the first step to creating realistic characters is to strive to understand people—what motivates, terrifies, drives, and thrills them. It’s important to listen, and to be observant.

Dystopias are a huge trend in YA right now, and your second novel, Delirium, is set in a dystopian society. Can you talk about writing in a popular genre? Did you worry about Delirium getting lost in the crowd, or alternatively, do you feel like it got a popularity bump from being on-trend?

I didn’t consciously write into that genre; actually, when I began writing Delirium I had probably only heard the word “dystopian” once in my life! But it’s true that by the time it was published, this genre had seen a sudden explosion in popularity. I try not to worry too much about my books getting lost in the genre, although that can certainly happen. I just keep faith that over time, people will find their way to my books. I guess I more worry that people will think I’m deliberately trying to write into a specific category, which is really not a consideration when I write books at all.

You’ve been very busy lately! You just released your first middle-grade novel, Lisel & Po, and you’re the Co-Founder of a Paper Lantern Lit, a literary development company. Pandemonium, the sequel to last spring’s Delirium, is coming out next spring (yay!). What else are you working on right now?

have been very busy! I have another middle-grade, The Spindlers, coming out next fall. I’m working on the last book in the Delirium trilogy, Requiem, right now. Plus I’m playing around with a middle-grade fantasy that probably won’t ever see the light of day. But I’m having fun working on it right now. Other than that, I’m trying to work on getting some sleep!!

Last question, and if you haven’t read Before I Fall, skip this one, because it’s a spoiler for sure!!

*****

I’ll admit that I was surprised by the end of Before I Fall: I thought that surely Sam, in redeeming herself and saving her friends, would be “allowed” to live, and yet she doesn’t. Can you tell us why you decided on the ending you did? Did you ever consider a different ending?

No, the ending was always inherent in the story. I wrote the first and the last chapter before writing anything else. There were several reasons why Sam didn’t magically wake up at the end. Sam grows to be a truly selfless person, meaning that she acts to save Juliet even though she knows she will not save herself in the process. Additionally, you know, her death is kind of written into the “rules.” She is actually not trapped in a time-loop so that she can live, but so that she can experience true connection for at least one day. Lastly, the book is about the consequences of our actions, and Sam’s decision to get in a car with a drunk friend, and its subsequent consequences, is irreversible. I felt that it was important to convey that. In real life, there are no do-overs.

Thanks for visiting the Hub, Lauren! I’m already looking forward to your next book.

— Emily Calkins, reading Shine by Lauren Myracle.

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4 Comments

  1. Is there a typo in the title? “If” instead of “Before”?

  2. Emily Calkins Emily Calkins

    Thank you, Genna. It’s corrected.

  3. I actually wish DELIRIUM got MORE attention than it did. It was definitely one of the strongest YA dystopian novels to come out.

  4. Emily Calkins Emily Calkins

    Lauren, I completely agree! I thought Delirium was a great read. I’m hoping to use it as a book club pick for a teen book club at my library; hopefully the teens will like it too!

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