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Monday, April 9, 2018

YA Review: Before I Let Go

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Published: January 2nd, 2018 by Sourcebooks  Fire
Genre: YA Mystery
Binding: Hardcover
Page Count: 349 plus author's note and such.
Part of a series? No, standalone.
Got via: The library
Amazon / Book Depository / Indiebound

Summary (from goodreads): 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...

Review: Okay, I kinda really liked this one. I have a few critical things to say about it, but it's one of those books that quietly worked really well for me. It's one of those books that isn't super in your face, but is kind of lovely for that. It does some things that are really subtle and leave you thinking about them for a long time afterwards. Parts of this are incredibly creepy and atmospheric, and I honestly had no clue what was going on for like most of the book, and it was a really, really good read.

Plot Talk: This is one of those books where there's not really a lot of plot but a lot happens? The summary basically explains it. Corey's best friend dies, and she goes back to their hometown for her memorial and to grieve and all that jazz, and things are weird. The rest is Corey trying to figure out what really happened to Kyra, and dealing with her grief. The book uses a variety of methods to tell the story, as well, from straight up narrative to letters, phone call transcriptions with no dialogue or prose, to almost screenplay like segments. It also utilizes a lot of flashbacks.

I'm making that sound really confusing, but it works and it's not. It reminds me of Far From You, and I think in both those cases it kind of makes sense for how the main character/narrator is feeling. Corey is thinking about her and Kyra's time together, and memories, and examining that, and wondering what she did wrong or what she could have done differently. It makes sense for the narrative to not be super lineal.

I also found the small town setting really well down. It feels isolated and weird and creepy.

Characters: I liked Corey's voice, and I especially liked how much she was into science. It's nice to see female characters with interest in STEM fields in YA. I also really liked that she had some really strong emotions. Asexual (and aromantic or aromantic-coded - I'll get more into that in a bit) characters can really be written as having no emotions or being very cold, and that can get old.

I'll also say here, one of my favourite things is how deep and intense the friendship was between Corey and Kyra. It's a relationship that's treated with as much importance as a romantic relationship, and that's wonderful to read. Kyra has romantic interest in Corey, but Corey doesn't recipricate, and she's not villanized or called lesser by the narrative for that. She sometimes struggles with feeling that way, but you know. That is pretty realistic, and it's a very small part of the book, and her entire identity is not wrapped up in feeling bad about it. She just has a low moment or two, and the narrative/other characters reassure her that no, she's actually just fine the way she is, and nothing is wrong with her.

I also feel like this is true of Kyra, specifically about her bipolar disorder. (She's also pansexual, but that's not relevant in this conversation, I just wanted to mention it because neat.) I'm going to try and find some reviews from ownvoices reviewers. That can be a bit tough, so I'm not really giving this points one way or another, but I do have some thoughts. I do think I'm going to go into this a bit more in the next section as well, so we'll come back to that.

Otherwise, kudos again for the small town depiction, including the small town characters. I was never entirely sure who to trust or who to be afraid of or if I was even supposed to be afraid of anyone at all. It's very effective. The book is pretty white, but it's kind of deliberately so? There's a lot of talk about how the land where Lost Creek is was stolen, and how it's a tiny, conservative, kind of bigoted town. There are POC characters at Corey's boarding school, which is described as basically larger than Lost Creek, although they aren't featured as prominently obviously. If that's going to be a dealbreaker for you, no worries from me, I get it, but I thought it was at least interesting that it's aware of it to some extant. You might feel like it's an excuse or something, and I'm not arguing, but I thought it was kind of accurate for the type of small town being portrayed, and handled better than just acting like it was the default automatically.

Does that make any sense?

There were also other queer characters, both at Corey's school and a couple even in Lost Creek, and the book acknowledged that the town could make that very difficult for them, if they weren't careful. It's not graphic about it, but it is realistic, speaking as a queer person who lives in a small town.

PG-13 stuff: Whole lot of this book is about ableism. Necessary spoilers in this section, so skip if you want. I'm actually going to link to a discussion about inspiration porn that the author took place in on Disability in Kidlit, because I think the book really sets out to meet that idea head on and talk about harmful it is. So while I personally think those things are handled very well, things still happen that could be upsetting. So trigger warnings for medical abuse, specifically medication being withheld and access to a therapist denied, a disabled person dying with people watching doing nothing to stop them. As well, arson and Corey is attacked and almost killed at one point.

Cons, complaints, bad stuff, etc.: So my biggest complaint here probably could have been solved by hiring a couple aro sensitivity readers. There's a couple times where there are some aromisic phrases like "more than friendship" and whatnot, but the bigger thing? Corey super duper reads as aromantic. The book does do a cool thing by not actually talking about sex, and only talking about attraction. That's refreshing.

But while the asexual label is used, Corey's romantic orientation is never mentioned, or even talked about like a thing that exists, and the type of attraction talked about is never expanded on. It's only called "attraction", and that causes some conflation of aromanticism and asexuality. Corey is described as never having crushes, for instance, and other things are talked about that are obviously about romantic attraction, not sexual attraction, which leads to a not great asexuality depiction. Basically, if the book had actually used the word aromantic, I would have no problems, because she's pretty clearly not alloromantic. Instead, I gotta be a jerk and say all this.

Cover comments: The cover's creepy, and really fits the book. I like the use of a very light, almost blank space that leads into this darkness. The pop of red is great, too.

Conclusion: While there were a few things that frustrated me, there was a lot of this I loved. There's a part in the book where Corey goes back to Lost, and she sees an old picture of Kyra, and she's certain that it should be a picture of the two of them, only Corey's not in it. She doesn't know if Kyra's mom edited it, or if she's remembering wrong, or what. It's such a little detail, but it stuck in my head and really creeped out.

And a lot of the book is like that, really kind of unnerving and creepy. I was never quite sure if things were paranormal or grief or a weird small town or what and I had a lot of fun with that. That is right up my alley. This is a book that I know has some problems, and won't really work for everyone, but worked really well for me, and I think would work well for other people. Wish the ace rep had been a little different just in a few ways, but overall I had a really good time reading it. Three and a half out of four roses, but I'll probably round up to four on goodreads.

Peace and cookies,

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