Review: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

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Published: 2 January 2018

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Category: Young Adult/Mystery/Contemporary

Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated―and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town’s lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she’s a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets―chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter…

Rating:  2 Stars

Content warning: mental illness disregard by characters and conversations as such that could be harmful to some people.

From reading the description, I thought that I would be going into a story that was a bit of a spooky mystery. A small town keeping secrets is certainly a good setting for that. The story that I ended up reading was rather a let down. I’ll be mentioning the reasons why, some of which may be considered spoilers, so SPOILER ALERT NOW.

To begin, a couple of points:

1. First of all, it says in the synopsis that the town is keeping secrets, which is misleading as it really only had one secret. That secret being: Kyra could paint the future and they ended up revering her as some kind of prophet.

1a. Kyra’s gift actually made for an interesting plot point, but it’s never explained. There are paintings of events all over town, but was she actually some kind of prophet? Was it a coincidence? The main character, Corey, never finds out and we have no other way of knowing. Not getting an answer one way or the other bugged me.

2. I don’t think the author could decide what kind of book this was meant to be. Realistic mystery? Supernatural mystery? There were elements of both, but it was never conclusive what I was reading. Corey spends a good amount of time dealing with flowers appearing out of nowhere, whispers of potential ghosts (and even a possible ghostly manifestion before she even gets to town), a garden blooming out of season, but then she pushes them off as nothing more than a clue to what happened to Kyra. That thought doesn’t pan out, so I was left with a confused feeling about what was happening.

3. There were some passages of the book that talked about Corey and Kyra’s sexuality, with it being mentioned that Kyra, after researching, had come back with definitions and the two came to terms with their own identities (Corey [asexual], Kyra [pansexual).

3a. While I like having diverse characters, their identities felt shoved in as part of trying to make the book diverse rather than a diverse book growing organically.

3b. From the descriptions we get of Corey’s attitude toward Kyra and an experimental kiss, among other dialogue, I think there was some confusion in the writing about the difference between asexual and aromantic. They are two very different things and personally I think the writer mixed Corey up.

I had some issues with Corey as a character, not only in her actions and her attitude but also in her development. While the townspeople clearly had their own ideas about Kyra, who she was and what she was to them both before and after her miracles, Corey acted as though she was 100% correct in her assessments of Kyra. There were maybe a couple points she had that I agreed with, such as supporting Kyra in wanting treatment, but there were far more moments when Corey came across as one minded as the townspeople.

In the end, she doesn’t really learn anything as far as I could tell. She gets some vague answer in regards to Kyra’s death, but not a totally clear picture and she herself is much the same at the end as the beginning. I didn’t see any real growth as a person. She even admits, near the end, that her remembrance of Kyra is not who Kyra was in the end. It’s almost like she’s admitting there’s no real closure here, only the closure she made up for herself.

Corey left Kyra and abandoned her just as much as the town abandoned her as a person and took up with her as an idol. Before the opening of the novel, she moved away with her family and went to a more broad minded boarding school. Engulfed with the life she started to make there, she ignored Kyra’s letters because not writing back was easier than searching for the right words and by following the easier path, Corey lost Kyra. I’m not saying that the burden of caring for Kyra and her MI is on Corey, but she makes quite a lot of claims during the novel about caring for Kyra and being there for her when she really wasn’t.

A note on some of the pages in the book. They were set up like they were pages from the script. This very jarring as the scenes that were depicted didn’t seem to warrant being treated differently. Why these were included is beyond me and with all the other issues I had, I think the overall book would’ve been better served if they hadn’t been included in this manner.

The town was a ball of hurtful people that judged someone with a mental illness until it turned out she (Kyra) had an ability that could serve them. Suddenly she was everyone’s best friend. I spent a good portion of the second half of the book being angry at everyone. The town for treating Kyra the way they did (shunning her for her MI, then worshiping her). I’ll give that the author certainly wrote these close minded people well and knew how to inspire rage filled moments.

I wish there had been more time spent with Kyra. Even in the flashbacks to before she died were all through Corey’s point of view and tainted by her perception. There were some letters by Kyra included which were great, but beneath the deluge of Corey’s idea about right, they faded.

Reading the book, I can see that the skill of Marieke Nijkamp is there and I really think she could have other stories that I’d enjoy. The pacing and the unanswered questions and the annoying main character does not make me want to count Before I Let Go among those possibilities.

 

 

 

 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

All media (pictures, quotes, etc.) belong to the respective owners and are used here solely for the purpose of review and commentary.

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