BEFORE I LET GO is the latest book from Marieke Nijkamp, author of This Is Where It Ends and Feral Youth. It's a story about a young person named Corey going home for the funeral of her best friend. It also is my first book review for 2018, and the start of a great new reading journey for me.
Normally, I'm not very good at finding new things, be it music or books. It's a lot of work for me, mentally, and generally it's easier to just coast by on what I know. But new starts and new aspirations starve quickly on easy. So here we are.
I picked it up the day after it came out, largely because I saw a tweet from the author:
Well, that ticks a lot of boxes. I want to read more diverse books (hello, recommendations!), and I love platonic friendships but hate inspiration porn. Sign me up.
The age range is young adult, but it handles some meaty subjects. Corey is travelling home to a tiny town in Alaska after receiving news that her best friend, Kyra, died. When she arrives, her childhood home is barely recognisable. But it's what she doesn't see at first that will help her make sense of this tragedy.
The author perfectly captures the feeling of returning home after some time away. Not dissimilar to your first time in a new city, you wander, hoping desperately to find some familiar activity to anchor yourself. I remember moving away from the community I spent my first sixteen years in, and of which I was an active member. Going back a year later to visit, it was as if I'd never been there at all. It was surreal, like being a ghost, with all your old friends just walking right through you. It's an isolation that permeates your being and the Alaskan wilderness is a perfect mimic of this feeling
She excels at portraying the way grief sneaks up on you, and the strange ways that people try to cope. You suddenly remember some trivial detail about the deceased, and it suddenly means everything and you're crying over a paperclip. We also get a good snapshot of the way that death twists people, and can bring out the worst in them. As a veteran of the funeral circuit, it all rings true.
The pacing is good, descriptions just right, and the narrator's occasional irrationality is the picture of grief.
Some of the themes felt very forced and largely unnecessary. While I realise that adding these elements purposefully can be very difficult, it may have been better to leave them out altogether. I also felt that while it's nice to see asexuality represented, that character being very scientific felt overdone. Additionally, the asexuality reads more as aromanticism, though this could just be down to the age of the characters more than anything else. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS I think I also would have preferred for the 'miracles' to be more explainable rather than bordering on supernatural (and totally unexplained by the end of the book). It wasn't enough supernatural for a paranormal book, and too much for a straight thriller. END OF SPOILERS.
The readability and action make it very digestable. I couldn't put it down! But there's room for improvement, which we'll hopefully see from Nijkamp's future work. I'd recommend it, but leave your English major hat at the door to avoid disappointment.