Samantha Kingston states that, although people often say that “just before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes,” that is not how things happened for her. Sam admits that actually, she would have been fine with skipping the “whole final-moment, mental life-scan thing,” but wouldn’t have minded revisiting her life’s greatest hits—her first hookup with her boyfriend, Rob Cokran, as well as her drunken antics and daily pranks with her friends Lindsay, Elody, and Ally. Before she died, however, Sam thought only of one thing, of one person: Vicky Hallinan.
From the very first lines, Oliver establishes through her irreverent protagonist that this book is going to subvert expectations about the experience of death and dying. Sam is established right off the bat as someone who isn’t interested in the minutiae of life—she is interested only in the flashier bits, in the parts of her life which make her seem happy, popular, and successful.
Sam thought of a time in fourth grade when Lindsay announced that she didn’t want Vicky Hallinan on her dodgeball team because Vicky was too fat. Though Sam and Lindsay weren’t friends at the time, Sam found the moment hilarious back then—it was only in the instant before her death that Sam remembered Vicky’s embarrassed face with a sense of shame and sadness. As Sam reflected on the moment, she considered how “the whole point of growing up” was to learn how to place oneself on the side of the people doing the laughing, not the person being laughed at, and noted that over the years, Vicky had gained some modicum of popularity, and now she laughed herself about the incident in fourth grade whenever it came up.
Despite Sam’s desire to see only the coolest, flashiest moments of her life, she finds herself surprisingly ruminating on her best friend’s cruelty toward a classmate. Sam seems to believe that it is important only to ensure that one is on the right side of the social divide, but in her final moments of life, her regret, sympathy, and concern betray her.
Another “weird” thing that happened to Sam in the moments before her death was the realization that she and her friends had just been talking about death on the car ride home from the party they’d been at. Sam was sharing her “greatest hits” theory while Elody and Ally fought about the music playing in the car. Suddenly, there was a flash of white on the road ahead, and Lindsay yelled something that Sam couldn’t make out—"sit or shit or sight”—and suddenly the girls had flipped off the road and into the woods. It was at that moment that Vicky Hallinan’s face “came rising out of the past,” and then Sam heard and felt nothing at all.
Sam was talking about her “greatest hits” theory with her friends just moments before it was tested. Sam’s desire to relive her greatest moments will not come to fruition, and Oliver denies her protagonist the very thing she wants in the first few pages in order to demonstrate the struggle between fate and agency which the book will chart.
Sam notes that “you don’t get to know” when you’ll die. The moment is unpredictable and unforeseeable. The morning of her death, Sam says, she woke up just seven minutes before she was supposed to get picked up for school, and was too busy worrying about how many roses she’d receive at her school’s Valentine’s Day celebration, Cupid Day, to even tell her parents goodbye.
As Sam prepares to tell the story of her life—and death—she establishes that her priorities at the time of her death were wildly askew, demonstrating even more profoundly the roles cruelty, agency, and redemption will play throughout the novel.