Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

By Ekta R. Garg

January 10, 2018

Genre: YA mystery/thriller

Release date: January 2, 2018

Rated: Bordering on Bypass it / 2.5 stars

When a teen in a small town dies under mysterious circumstances, her best friend tries to find out what happened. The residents of the town resist all inquiries, leaving the friend to wonder whether something more sinister is afoot. Author Marieke Nijkamp’s second novel contains a weak storyline that tries to skate on its intensity in Before I Let Go.

The 200 or so residents of the town of Lost Creek, Alaska, don’t approve of outsiders. Or anyone different. Or anything that goes against everything the town has stood for in all the decades it’s existed. That’s why Corey Johnson finds some relief when her mother gets a job in another city and they move away.

In some ways, leaving Lost Creek feels like a foreign concept. Corey can’t stand the thought of separating from Kyra Henderson, her best friend since time immemorial. But she does want to get away from the oppression of small-town life, which she’s experienced firsthand. Ever since Kyra’s official diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the town’s residents treat Kyra like a pariah. They ostracize her from town life and give her a wide berth when she walks down the street. Corey knows she’s Kyra’s first line of defense, but the effort to remain so is exhausting her.

She thinks about Kyra constantly, but a new school and new friends begin to occupy her time more and more. Anyway, nothing has changed in Lost Creek since the town’s founding, so Corey has no doubt that everything will remain status quo until her next visit back. When she gets the phone call, then, that Kyra has died, everything Corey knows about Lost Creek comes into question.

Corey rushes home expecting the town’s residents to be relieved that Kyra is gone. What she gets is a town that reveres Kyra and her art. Corey tries to confront various people, including Kyra’s parents, about the sudden change of heart towards her gentle friend. No one has any concrete answers about anything, including how or why Kyra died, and the more Corey digs the more she learns that Lost Creek really is lost in more ways than one.

Author Marieke Nijkamp’s first book This Is Where It Ends offered readers a compelling plot that follows students at a school under the threat of a shooter. She maintains the same level of tension in Before I Let Go but lets down her characters as well as the readers with a plot that doesn’t measure up to the premise proposed. While it’s easy to understand the stereotypical wariness small-town citizens harbor for anything out of the ordinary, Nijkamp can’t quite make a convincing argument about why those same citizens would suddenly turn on one of their own.

The hostile behavior of the residents of Lost Creek feels forced. Readers will understand Corey’s relief at leaving, and the subsequent guilt that follows, but when Corey comes back to Lost Creek to look into Kyra’s death the town turns on her too. Again, the hostility seems almost thrust upon Corey, as if no other antagonist would have sufficed in the plot.

Nijkamp seems to want to tackle several subjects all at the same time, and in doing so she sacrifices full commitment to any one of those topics. Corey leaves and Kyra stays, but no satisfying explanation is offered as to why that particular event makes the town embrace Kyra without question. Smart readers might wonder whether Corey was the problem all along, and if she’s got a great new life in a new city then they might ask what the big deal about the way Lost Creek treats Kyra is after all. Everything works out in the end, more or less.

Fans of Nijkamp’s previous book might want to pick this one up; her writing is solid is ever and she offers some lovely turns of phrase. But for the most part, Before I Let Go is Bordering on Bypass it.