Title: Before I Let Go
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Category: YA Magical Realism (LGBTQIAP+)
Publisher/Date: Sourcebooks Fire/2 January 2018
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 book has content warnings for bipolar disorder (and a LOT of addressed anti-bipolar disorder sentiments), child/medical abuse, suicide, and attempted murder.
This book was really good, although sometimes it was a little painful to get through. First off, I really loved the friendship between Corey and Kyra and I’m a little sad that we only got to see it through flashbacks. Their friendship was solid but still had its weak points — Corey not writing back to Kyra after she moves, sexuality which I’ll get to in a bit — and I loved how honest that part of their friendship was. Friendships don’t have to be perfect to be healthy, and while they did have their problems their friendship was still very healthy and supportive. We need more friendships like this in books, and it was something I really appreciated.
Although I’m not diagnosed with bipolar disorder (it’s likely that I may have something similar, but I’m not sure), I felt that Kyra’s bipolar disorder was realistic and I appreciated how the point of view we had made it clear that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder did not make Kyra a different person from who she was before the diagnosis. Unfortuately, aside from Corey, almost every single person in Lost Creek is unable to understand this. As soon as she’s diagnosed, the whole community demonizes Kyra and tries to get rid of her because she no longer “fits in.” This is a sentiment that, while explicitly addressed, is present throughout the entire book, so if that’s something that would bother you whether or not you have bipolar disorder yourself, it might be best to skip this one.
I also really appreciated the explicit pansexual and asexual rep on the page. While I’m glad to see the “asexual” label being used for Corey, the way in which her asexuality was described sounded more like aromanticism than asexuality, and I really wish that that representation would have been made explicit as well. From what I know of Corey I do think asexual also fits, but this was a missed opportunity for on-page aromantic rep that we really need in literature. As a counterpoint, I DO think that because Corey and Kyra were figuring out their identities from the Internet and were still exploring and looking at labels that maybe Corey just didn’t come across that label while they were looking, which is fair because teenagers can definitely still be exploring and learning about different identities. Even so, I do think that this was a missed opportunity, and I’m a little sad that that didn’t make it in there.
The writing was engaging and easy to read. Some of the sections were written in script format, which was an interesting choice, and I felt like it added to the dramatization of the small town. It emphasized that the town was primarily just an act, and I loved the perspective that it brought.
A few negatives: I didn’t feel like I got to know any of the characters all that well. I liked Corey and Kyra together and I got to know them a little, but I left the book feeling like I didn’t know much about them as individual people, and I know almost nothing about any of the other people in Lost Creek. Additionally, aside from a tiny handful of people including our protagonist, almost everybody in this novel is unlikable. The middle of the book was a little slow for me because I had to spend time with these characters who were unbearable, and it was a little much for me. Nearly everyone in that town is self-centered, selfish, and disgustingly naïve about mental illness, and while I know that sentiments like this toward bipolar disorder are common, it was really harsh to see over 200 people holding the exact same position and putting their beliefs over a teenager’s life and safety. Everyone is negligent and irresponsible, and it kind of made me feel sick.
This wasn’t a perfect read, but overall I still found it really enjoyable. If extreme anti-bipolar sentiments and neglect and abuse towards youth are not for you, then I’d recommend passing on this one. Otherwise, it’s a very good read.
Final rating: 3.5 of 5 stars