I finished reading Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp last night; the first young adult novel I’ve read in a good few years. I was sceptical after reading some of the GoodReads reviews, but I really enjoyed it!
Before I Let Go follows Corey as she returns to her hometown, Lost Creek, following her childhood best friend’s death. Throughout, themes of friendship, love, sexuality and belonging are explored. The writing is of a very high standard, and I really enjoyed many of the metaphors and pathetic fallacy employed through the story. The characterisation is more questionable, yet I thought it was executed cleverly.
The main things I enjoyed about this book included Corey and Kyra’s friendship and their characters. Nijkamp does not paint this as a picture perfect friendship, nor does she romanticise Kyra’s mental instability. Corey at first is portrayed as the opposite of Kyra; she’s popular and happy within the town of Lost. People understand her and get along with her for who she is, making it difficult for her to really get Kyra’s difficult circumstances. As a bipolar pansexual in a small town, Kyra does not appear to fit in her whole life, as she goes through manic episodes and just wants to find her place in Lost.
These two are by far the most complex characters and I really enjoyed following Corey as she discovers what life was like for Kyra as she returns to Lost as an outsider. The other characters have their layers, especially Mr Henderson (Kyra’s dad), Aaron, Sam and Rashon. I believe that the rest of the town’s characters having nearly the same personality and using the same expressions in their speech was cleverly done to create an eery atmosphere. The “one of us” mentality of Lost is perpetuated by the way that the townsfolk all discuss Kyra’s death in the same way, and sets the creepy scene for Corey to tread through carefully.
I thought that the tension was well-built, and the information was drip-fed to both the reader and Corey in a purposeful way so as to keep you turning the page. It is certainly an easy read, and I would recommend it to young adults struggling with feelings of not belonging, and their parents so they can see how best to handle their child. The reason I could not give this 5 stars is simply because of the odd script-like chapters which I felt took the reader from the narrative. I at first thought it was a good way of conveying phone conversations, but when they were used for face-to-face interactions, I just did not get it.
I would also be hesitant to recommend this to teenagers struggling with issues of sexuality because neither pansexuality, nor asexuality are properly explored or explained in the narrative. These would perhaps have added more to the story had they been properly explained, as impressionable teenagers may cling to these terms without a proper understanding of them. I also thought that in amongst the different sexualities, the lack of heterosexual teenagers made the inclusion of these terms superfluous, as there was nothing to contrast or complement these characters and show how similar people can be regardless of their sexuality or gender.
Overall, I would give this book 4 stars solidly. The story itself was compelling, and I enjoyed the eeriness from the townspeople as well as slowly discovering the truth of Kyra’s death. Corey was an easy character to follow and sympathise with, although I personally related to Kyra a lot more; Nijkamp offers young readers two strong, contrasting female leads to whom every girl would relate on some level. I was provided with an advance review copy from Sourcebooks Fire in exchange for an honest review.