Sunday, 11 March 2018

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp is a non-genre YA book about a girl dealing with her best friend's death. I picked it up after hearing good things about it and thanks to having enjoyed the author's first, unrelated, book, This Is Where It Ends.

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...

This is a story about Corey dealing with her grief in the immediate aftermath of her best friend's death. Having moved away and gone to boarding school seven months earlier, this is her first trip back to the small town she still thinks of as "home". She wants to understand why Kyra killed herself, especially so close to Corey's originally planned trip back. When Corey arrives in Lost, the town is acting a bit strangely towards her and the more she learns the less happy she is with the answers she finds.

I don't want to spoil anything, but I think I saw this marketed as a thriller — and This Is Where It Ends certainly was one — but it isn't. I mean, there are weird and creepy aspects and there's a little bit of action, but I would class it as straight contemporary fiction more than anything else. I enjoyed it despite my usual preference for speculative fiction. It dealt pretty well with Kyra being bipolar, although the story was told from Corey's point of view and involved her and others coming to terms with (or not) Kyra's diagnosis. There were also queer characters and Corey herself is asexual, which is unusual and nice to see in a YA book.

The other big character in this book was the setting. This is a story that would not have worked — that could not have been told the same way — if it had not been set in a very small town. The inhospitable arctic setting of the town, which the in habitants have made their own, also contributed a lot to the overall vibe of the book. In fact, I actually really liked what the author did with a few scenes: writing them out as stage directions and dialogue to shift the impact and play with the reader's (and Corey's) perception of reality. It was an interesting device I haven't seen before. I thought it was strange at first, but it grew on me and made sense overall.

Before I Let Go isn't a happy novel, but it also wasn't as depressing as I expected it to be (but your perceptions may vary). It's main focus is on a particular set of ableist reactions to mental illness and it explores these well. It's a story of friendship and grief and a very isolated town. If that sounds like your kind of thing, or if you enjoy contemporary YA generally, then I highly recommend this book. I read it very quickly and will certainly be keeping an eye out for the author's future books.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2018, Sourcebooks Fire
Series: No
Format read: Hardcover *gasp*
Source: Purchased from Dymocks

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