Small towns don’t often take kindly to outsiders. Sometimes, they don’t even take kindly to their own. Such is the story of Before I Let Go, which follows Corey as she seeks the truth about the sudden — and suspicious — death of her best friend, Kyra. Corey grew up in the small town of Lost Creek, Alaska, and was nearly inseparable from Kyra. When Corey’s family moves away, the two girls make a promise to stay connected; while Kyra writes regularly, Corey leaves the letters unanswered. Nonetheless, she’s distraught when she learns just seven months later, that Kyra fell through what is normally a frozen over lake. In returning to Lost Creek, she can sense that things have changed, but just how far these changes have gone aren’t anything she’s ready for.
Although I can’t say the premise of the book is particularly unique, the book itself is interesting and I read it fairly quickly. Unfortunately, the foreshadowing throughout the book is too thick. It doesn’t take long to realize where the truth lies, but the devil is in the details and getting there. The book itself is a mix of letters Kyra wrote to Corey, none of which she responded to. Some of the letters Corey received, while others are new to her. There are also flashbacks that range from a few months ago to several years. There isn’t a particular order to any of them, which makes it a bit tedious to figure out the relevance to the adjacent chapters or to the story as a whole. I found myself grateful that many of the chapters are short, because I preferred the present tense, where Corey was trying to figure things out.
I also found myself feeling like I didn’t know the main character at all. So much of the plot focuses on Kyra and trying to figure out her last days that it nearly completely ignores who Corey is outside of her friendship with Kyra. In this way, she is extremely one-dimensional and I would have loved to understand more about her identity beyond what is provided here. The town’s citizens are also one-dimensional. Before Corey returns home, the picture that is painted of them (no pun intended) is that they are closed-minded and self-centered. Later, they seem cultishly devoted to delineating those who belong from those who are or became “outsiders.” While that image didn’t completely change for me, I wanted more in the way of depth to them.
I appreciate that the book attempts to address Kyra’s struggles with mental health. Her battle with bipolar disorder and the many ways she attempted to manage are important. The book also alludes to various types of romantic relationships, but I felt it was almost too cursory to have done it any justice. It was subtle to the point where I wondered if the author was making a point with how brief it was. Overall, the takeaway was that the town didn’t manage difference well, which could have been conveyed without trivializing or glossing over what are actually important topics.
What didn’t sit well with me in the book was that I could never quite figure out if there were supernatural forces at play or if the atmosphere was so creepy that I was on edge. There are descriptions of Corey feeling like she was being watched, or outright seeing things, or unexplained items being in different places. There was no explanation offered for many of them, so I still don’t really have a good sense of what happened. It was too ambiguous for me to enjoy.
Before I Let Go is certainly interesting, but it is not my favorite of Nijkamp’s. The heavy foreshadowing, lack of main character development, and ambiguous forces left me wanting more.