Friday, July 14, 2017

Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

"Let me tell you a story."

That's how Kyra always begins speaking when she has something to share. She loves myths, legends, folklore, and even just the mundane, everyday tales of people's lives. They fascinate her and fill her with purpose, but they also provide her with an escape from her manic highs and the intensity of her lows.

Corey is Kyra's best friend, and she has always tried to help and support Kyra through her struggles with mental health, but Corey's mother took a job in Canada. Corey had to leave Kyra behind, but it wasn't as if they'd never see each other again. Corey would come back to visit and she and Kyra would be together again, just like they used to be.

That was the plan, anyway. Just before the end of her first semester at her new school, Corey gets a call from her mother. Kyra has drowned herself in the river--the ice should have been too thick for her to fall in, but it seems she found a weak spot.

In order to mourn her friend, Corey returns to the town where she grew up to find that things have changed. People keep talking about hope, blessings, and belonging. But buried below the surface, Corey senses something sinister. She begins to ask questions in a town that prefers to keep its silence. They don't trust outsiders and Corey, although she once lived in this tiny Alaskan community, finds herself with a label and a deep sense of dread.

Before I Let Go is a story of friendship, love, and tragedy. The setting of this tiny town in Alaska provides a backdrop for a story that at times borders on magical realism, winding the beliefs of the townspeople into its tapestry. It's never quite certain whether Kyra deserved the strange devotion bestowed upon her by the people of the town. It's as if that question does not really matter.

What does matter throughout the novel is Kyra's need to be loved for who she is. She does not want to be loved despite it, nor does she want to be feared because of it. No one around her fully understands what her bipolar disorder means for them. They find it unpredictable and frightening. Because of their fear and ignorance, the people of the town only think of themselves. They never ask themselves what Kyra's mental health might mean for her.

Marieke Nijcamp highlights an issue that is burgeoning into a discussion in modern America. So often, people who struggle with these types of disorders are portrayed in media as frightening, chaotic, challenging, or savants. Kyra's story straddles all of these personas, and yet they never fit, suit, or help her. She wears them like uncomfortable clothing because she is trapped and isolated in her tiny, petri dish of a world.

In this beautifully told story, Nijcamp demands that the reader examine the responses and determine how someone might get it right--for the sake of friendship, love, and avoiding tragedy.

© 2017, Copyright Miriam Braud.  

While I try to post content warnings if I, personally, identify anything that I think is not appropriate for my students who range in age from 11-14, I recommend that all content is perused by parents to ensure that the individual and unique values of each family is upheld.

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