Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp
January 2, 2018
Reviewed by Tori
Corey and Kyra grew up the best of friends in the small isolated town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey’s mom decides to the family to the mainland, Kyra and Corey promise to stay in touch and Corey assures Kyra she will come back for her.
Only Kyra doesn’t wait and Corey is now headed back to Lost Creek for Kyra’s memorial. As Corey looks for answers while struggling to accept Kyra’s death, she finds herself standing on the outside looking in, suddenly one of the outsiders while the town speaks of Kyra in hushed tones of love and respect. Sentiments that were not there while she was alive.
The deeper Corey digs, the more she’s convinced something is wrong. The town is keeping secrets, secrets that killed her best friend. And if she isn’t careful, she may join her friend.
Before I let Go is the sophomoric novel from Marieke Nijkamp, author of This Is Where It Ends. Set in the wilds of Alaska, Nijkamp writes an atmospheric YA mystery that focuses on a teenager and her relationship with that around her. A sort of coming of age that addresses friendship, family, love, loss, mental illness, and fear. Told in the first and third person, Nijkamp flashes between the past and present while using a variety of writing mediums to let the protagonist (Corey) tell us her story, focusing on her relationship with her best friend as she attempts to understand why she committed suicide and what the town had to do with it.
Corey has lived most of her life in a small isolated Alaskan town where everyone knows your business and you have been tried and judged from birth. Raised by a single parent who worked long hours, Corey’s best friend was the town pariah, Kyra. Diagnosed as bipolar, the town was frightened by what they didn’t understand and ostracised her. Corey was always there for Kyra but sometimes the weight of being Kyra’s friend dragged Corey down. She admits to being conflicted over the move to the mainland. A new school and friends will give her a chance to reinvent herself. She will no longer be just Kyra’s friend and an outcast by association. There she can be whoever she wants and she takes advantage of that.
Nijkamp captures Corey’s teen voice perfectly. The narrative is indicative of the age as it fluctuates between dramatic outtakes and rambling narcissistic monologues; creating at times a sense of disconnect. She is understandably confused by the cold reception she receives when she arrives back in Lost. Unfortunately for us, we never get a true sense of anyone beyond Corey so we also remain in the dark. We are told she is now considered an outsider but not why; she’s only been away seven months. This lack of follow-through repeats throughout the book.
Corey’s characterization is sharp while those around her blurs out of focus. Even their dialogue is vague and random, overflowing with useless platitudes that try to create a sense of mysticism. If they weren’t an important part of Corey’s life then they didn’t register with her. Kyra is/was the only other whom we really get to know and even then it’s colored by Corey’s perceptions. Nijkamp does a fine job of exploring Corey’s many facets and I enjoyed the patience and perseverance she exhibits as she tries to show us all the truths behind Corey and Kyra’s friendship. She shows more than just the good times but also the awkward, intrusive, and annoying times. We remain unsure of Corey’s true intentions because she is unsure herself. She is walking into this story blind and in her need to assign responsibility to someone for Kyra’s death, she avoids having to look at her own complicity. There is an odd cadence to the narrative, reminding me of Ellen Hopkins’ writing, that lends more to the of disconnection felt.
Using a series of letters, journals, and memories, it’s ridiculously easy to predict what happened and why. Nijkamp captures the town’s xenophobia and selfishness perfectly, though the catalyst that brings it into the open felt manipulative and added an element to the story that didn’t work for me. As we reach the end, we realize there was no great mystery involved here but rather a sad story of a town that chose to sacrifice one of its own to ensure its survival.
Before I Let Go has a strange appeal to it despite the lack of direction, characterization, and her attempts to incorporate multiple tropes which leaves her writing vulnerable and weakens the storyline. I’m not sure about this author but I am willing to give her another try in the future.