One of my favourite books of 2015 was This Is Where It Ends, a story of an American school shooting written by a Dutch writer, and with the most gorgeous chalk cover art which still gives me shivers. So when I noticed that Source Books was at YALC, I went looking to see if they had proof copies of her second book, Before I Let Go, and I was delighted to realise that they did.
Days before Corey is to return home to the snow and ice of Lost Creek, Alaska, to visit her best friend, 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. 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…
I went into this book expecting another realism. Having thoroughly enjoyed This Is Where It Ends, I wanted an exploration of the mystery of Kyra’s death, treatment of mental illness, female friendship, asexuality, and possibly murder or small town prejudices. And I did get all of those things. There were lots of really great things in this. It actually reminded me a lot of the book I read immediately before (Nemesis), not only because of the isolated, small-town nature of the protagonists, but also the explorations of prejudice and the notion of the treatment of outsiders. But the other way in which this book reminded me of my feelings about Nemesis was that I went in expecting something that I did not get.
before I let go is a magical realism book. There’s something almost other-worldly about Kyra, the nature of her death, and her existence in the time since Corey left Lost Creek, their tiny Alaskan town. And I just really don’t like magical realism as a genre. I like fantasy – I like high fantasy, I like low fantasy, I like YA fantasy, I like adult fantasy. I also like thrillers, murder mysteries, conspiracy books. And I like realism. So I should, in theory, like magical realism. But I really, really don’t. So as I went through this book and realised that this was where it was going, I just disengaged more and more.
I think my disgust with magical realism is that it never really gives an explanation for anything. How did this happen? Was it real? Was it just mental illness? I hate that kind of ambiguity and the lack of clarity you get from it.
So although the relationship between Kyra and Corey was lovely, and the murder mystery was dark and creepy, and the small-town mentality of Lost and how they treat Corey as an outsider less than a year after she left the town was wonderfully drawn, and Nijkamp is still a really great writer, I did NOT like this book.
But that’s on me. I just hate magical realism. So my rating of this book is my reflection of how much I enjoyed it, and not really how good it was. I’m not sure if that’s fair to Nijkamp, as it really is well-written, but this is my blog, so I’m giving the rating!
Two Stars (sorry)