Review Detail

 
Young Adult Fiction
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
5.0
Writing Style 
 
5.0

Deeply layered, moving, and at times terrifying

WHAT I LOVED:
Once upon a time, as this storytelling-focused story might begin a tale, Corey and Kyra were best friends in the microscopic Lost Creek. Then Corey’s family moved to Canada and Corey went away to boarding school. Seven months later, Kyra died when the ice broke on a frozen lake and she fell in. In those seven months, Lost went from considering Kyra a bipolar “danger” to the revered hometown golden girl. Corey doesn’t trust a bit of what she’s hearing, but Lost no longer trusts her. Seven months away is enough time for Corey to become an outsider–and Lost doesn’t take kindly to outsiders. Contemporary, horror, suspense, mystery, something unexplainable–the span of genres in Before I Let Go lends it a multifaceted quality. Though busy at times, it works well and keeps you reading.

If you were worried this would be just another Dead Girl book–one in which the main character’s personal journey is centered entirely on an unknowable dead girl–you will be pleased to know it’s not. Though Lost is obsessed with controlling Kyra’s narrative and Corey tells us of the Kyra she knew, the dearly departed still tells her own story through her letters to Corey and a diary she hid from Lost. Like I said, storytelling-focused story. If you were a fan of Hamilton‘s storytelling theme, Before I Let Go will be your new best friend.

Nijkamp’s chosen setting of tiny Lost Creek, Alaska is brilliantly written and appropriately claustrophobic. It more than fulfills the two needs for such a setting: a sparse town with only a handful of places to be and a small population of recognizable, individual people. My mom grew up in a town like Lost Creek and regularly tells stories about it. The way Corey talks about lost is almost identical to the way Mom talks about her hometown when we visit and she points out all three notable places.

The people of Lost are what gives the novel its tinge of horror and suspense too! They–especially Kyra’s parents–are so determined to protect Kyra’s “legacy” that they unite into a single terrifying entity when Corey opposes them. For God’s sake, they just stood there and watched when the cabin Corey was staying in caught fire and she had to escape through a window. A town and population like this could come right out of a Stephen King novel.

The legacy Lost wants so desperately to protect? Kyra’s painted prophecies. The return of mining work to town via a new investor, specific people and places Corey visits throughout, her own manner of death,… She predicted these and more in her art. It’s not paranormal or magical realism, simply the unexplainable. Among other unexplainable things: WHAT WAS GOING ON WITH AARON’S CABIN?

But the strongest idea at the core of Before I Let Go are deconstructions of “suffering for your art” and the misconceptions surrounding mentally ill creatives. Kyra painted to cope with her bipolar disorder, not to indulge any passion for art. Once Lost discovered her painted prophecies, they came to depend on her only for her art and isolated her in a abandoned spa. Since she only painted during her manic episodes and her medication helped control her moods, they withheld her meds. If the painted visions required she suffered for her art, then so be it. They’d make sure she suffered. She’d already foretold her own death, after all.

Think about some of the mentally ill creatives throughout history, like Sylvia Plath and Ernest Hemingway. Both wrote works of literary genius and both committed suicide when they were relatively young. Had they gotten effective treatment, they may have lived much longer and produced much more work. But would it have been as well-received as the work they made with poor treatment or none at all?

Like the people of Lost, we simply accept the relationship between their work and lack of treatment without much thought. We don’t wonder whether they created due to passion or simply to cope, or how they felt about what they created. A mentally ill creative might make something they dislike or nothing at all with poor/no treatment and only make something they truly love/are passionate about when getting good treatment–or nothing at all if they’re like Kyra and only create to cope. No art is ever worth the suffering of the artist. Them getting treatment is more important than any art they make without it.

Because Lost never thought about any of the above, Kyra died. How many lives have prematurely ended because we didn’t think about any of this either?

WHAT LEFT ME WANTING:
Absolutely nothing.

FINAL VERDICT:
Nijkamp’s debut This Is Where It Ends has set a high standard by spending over a year on the New York Times bestseller list, but Before I Let Go has it beat. It’s a deeply layered, moving, and at times terrifying novel I’d teach to high school students if I could stomach teaching. It’s not emotionally easy to read, but you’d be missing brilliance if you skipped out on this visceral reading experience.

Good Points
*excellent sense of setting
*compelling characters
*unexpected but welcomed horror elements
*like Hamilton, in a way: "who lives, who dies, who tells your story"
Was this review helpful to you? 

Comments

 
 
Ordering 
 
Already have an account? or Create an account
 
 
 
Powered by JReviews

FEATURED GIVEAWAYS

Latest Book Listings Added

Three Sides of A Heart: Stories About Love Triangles
You may think you know the love triangle, but...
 
4.7
 
0.0 (0)
The November Girl
I am Anda, and the lake is my mother....
 
4.0
 
0.0 (0)
Approximately Yours (North Pole, Minnesota)
Danny Garland is so out of Holly’s league. And...
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
A Penny Lost
Penelope Grace, usually forgotten under the shadow of her...
 
3.3
 
0.0 (0)
Chasing Eveline
Sixteen-year-old Ivy Higgins is the only student at Carmel...
 
4.7
 
5.0 (2)
Good and Gone
When Lexi Green’s older brother, Charlie, starts plotting a...
 
3.7
 
0.0 (0)
Glow
When thrift-store aficionado Julie discovers a series of antique paintings...
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
Stolen Secrets
After an abrupt move across the country to San Francisco,...
 
4.3
 
0.0 (0)
Somebody's Baby
Ever since Sloan won a reality singing competition, her music...
 
4.3
 
0.0 (0)
White Rabbit
Caleb Roehrig, author of Last Seen Leaving, delivers another spellbinding...
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
The Temptation of Adam
Adam Hawthorne is fine. Yeah, his mother left, his...
 
4.3
 
0.0 (0)
Undiscovered Country
In the aftermath of her mother's death, Cat recklessly...
 
3.8
 
0.0 (0)
Frazzled: Ordinary Mishaps and Inevitable Catastrophes
Things are looking up for Abbie Wu: this year...
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
Apex (Hunter Series #3)
Being a member of the Elite Hunter Command imperils...
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
The Emerald Circus
Where is Wendy? Leading a labor strike against the...
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)
32718027.jpg
Step into The City of Brass, the spellbinding debut...
 
5.0
 
0.0 (0)

Latest Member Reviews

Dune (Dune Chronicles #1)
 
5.0
"Its a classic. Not much more I can add."
Sunshine at the Academy: Book 1 of the Sunshine Series
 
4.5
"I really enjoyed this book. It's a futuristic coming of age novel reminiscent of Harry Potter although no magic is..."
On A LARP
 
3.3
"In ON A LARP, Sid is known to be a hacker after a past school prank, and she's a good..."
Code Name Verity
 
4.3
"The year is 1943. The setting locations are England, and Nazi-occupied France. The book is told in a..."
Good and Gone
 
3.7
"Road tripping with a purpose, Good and Bad is a journey, the reader won't soon forget. Lexi's brother,..."
Glow
 
5.0
"'There's a certain kind of light that I should have been afraid of all along.' Radium was discovered..."
Blood Oath (The Darkest Drae Book 1)
 
5.0
"I’ve always enjoyed Kelly St. Clare’s series and I’ve always enjoyed Raye Wagner’s as well, but together, these authors are..."
Release
 
4.0
"Wildly original--and completely realistic--Release is a whirlwind of a tale, one that will leave you both completely confused, yet satiated...."
White (The Wings Trilogy, #1)
 
4.3
"With Claire's parents gone, she is uprooted and moves to Aurora with her sister. Here, she finds a new fascination..."
Stolen Secrets
 
4.3
"What worked: This is an amazing tale with an unique twist on the holocaust and the survivors. What I really..."
Somebody's Baby
 
4.3
"SOMEBODY’S BABY by Lurlene McDaniel is the perfect follow up to her novel LOSING GABRIEL, which I absolutely loved. I..."
White Rabbit
 
5.0
"Rufus just wants one day of semi-fun, something he hasn’t had since his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian, wrecked his heart. But then,..."
Goldeline
 
4.0
"Goldeline has found a rag tag family with Gruff and his bandits. They live in the forest and steal food..."
The Last Namsara
 
3.3
"Asha, daughter of the king, is feared and admired as the greatest dragon hunter. She is nicknamed the Iskari, after..."
The November Girl
 
4.0
"Anda lives on an island on Lake Superior. For most of the year, she’s there with her father, trying to..."
Approximately Yours (North Pole, Minnesota)
 
5.0
"It’s been years since Holly was in North Pole, Minnesota, the place she loved with her grandmother. But now with..."
It's Kind of a Funny Story
 
3.5
"A mature contemporary YA, set in New York City. The story is told in first-person present-tense, exclusively from the perspective..."
Daughter of the Burning City
 
5.0
"Daughter of the Burning City was an enticing, mysterious and compelling novel. It tells the story of Sorina, an illusion-worker..."
Code It! Create It!: Ideas & Inspiration for Coding (Girls Who Code)
 
5.0
"Interested in coding but not sure what products or activities you could do with it? Look no further than this..."
Team BFF: Race to the Finish! #2 (Girls Who Code)
 
4.0
"In this second installment in the Girls Who Code series, we follow Sophia and her friends as they enter a..."