Before I Fall
I’ve followed Jessica Scott’s Twitter for years and I value her perspective. As one who has actually served in the armed forces, she has a lot of intelligent things to say and in some of her prior books, she’s written not just good romance, but thoughtful stories period. In reading Before I Fall, one catches hints of this throughout the text. However, this is an example of a self-published book that would benefit from more editing to make the good stuff shine.
I will make readers aware of one thing up front: This book is told in alternating first-person perspective by both hero and heroine. The trend of telling stories through alternating perspective very often results in choppy writing and as a result, I tend not to care for it. However, Scott makes it work in this book and it’s one of the few novels that actually benefits from the technique.
And who are these narrators? Beth Lamont lives with her father and attends an unnamed Southern college that to my Southern college grad eyes looks an awful lot like a cross between Duke and Emory. Picture a student body made up primarily of sheltered, spoiled young adults whose parents foot the bill for a top notch education and lots of luxuries besides. Beth’s father is disabled with crippling back pain due to a war injury, and she attends school while working 2 jobs just to keep them afloat. The bills and stress are piling up on Beth, but she’s determined to power through and finish her business degree so that she can get a full-time job with insurance.
And then there’s Noah Warren. Noah has recently left the army after serving in the Middle East. Haunted by what happened to him overseas, he’s trying to fit back into civilian life and trying to find his way at a college where he feels horribly out of place. Beth gets assigned to tutor Noah in statistics and in the beginning, neither is terribly thrilled by the arrangement. Noah figures Beth will be some out-of-touch college kid, and as a result of what has happened to her father, Beth pretty much hates the Army and what it has done to her family.
The chemistry between Beth and Noah picks up right away, but given their situations, neither one is inclined to give in to insta-lust. That initial tension, as well as Scott’s portrayal of Beth and Noah’s backstories, drew me far into the book. Scott does a good job of showing Beth’s struggles to get care for her father. I’m familiar enough with the VA to know that it’s every bit as woefully inadequate as portrayed in Before I Fall, and seeing the effects of that system on these characters was quite powerful.
While I found Beth the stronger of the two lead characters, Noah’s no slouch. Much is made of his own struggles to adjust and to get care for his less obvious war wounds, and Scott writes that well, too. In addition, since we get to view the leads both through their own eyes and through each others, the reader gets a certain sense of perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of the lead characters that makes them all the more engaging.
If the romantic timing had remained strong throughout the novel, this would have been a DIK or very close to it for me. However, about halfway through the book, the romance frankly lost some of its emotional impact. The backstories of the characters maintained their power, but somehow the romantic moments in the book just didn’t quite work. At times there were sex scenes that felt awkwardly worked into the plot, or there were rambling snippets of internal monologue that grew repetitive and went on longer than the attention span could handle. Toward the end, the pacing changed as well, and that didn’t quite work for me. The book unfolded at a measured pace in the initial chapters, but the last few chapters were “must tie up eleventy million and one loose ends” time.
The end result? At the best moments, we get an emotionally raw story about finding love in the middle of all the horrible things that war can do to people. However, we also get a story that at times just feels a little disjointed and ragged.