Before I Let Go
PublisherSourcebooks Fire
Date Published22 October 2018
Price£ 12.99

Before I Let Go

by Marieke Nijkamp

Corey’s best friend is dead, and Corey wants to know how and why that happened. Her questions don’t make her popular in an isolated Alaskan community.


Corey and Kyra have been best friends forever, growing up together in the small remote Alaskan town of Lost Creek. They’re everything to each other and Corey understands Kyra like no one else does. Kyra is bipolar and other people in the town find her dramatic mood swings and somewhat ethereal presence hard to cope with. As a result, she is largely ostracised by her peers and even the older folk in the town, who should know better, have been heard to mutter darkly that Kyra has no place in Lost Creek.

When Corey’s mother decides to accept a job away from Lost Creek, the two girls promise that nothing will come between them, not even distance, but inevitably keeping in contact is harder than they anticipate. So when, just a few days before Corey is due to return for a much-anticipated visit to see her friend, Kyra is found dead – drowned under the ice on a frozen lake – Corey is devastated and inevitably blames herself.

Her return visit goes ahead, but now Corey is going to say goodbye to her friend, and nothing will be the same again for her. Corey soon learns that she’s now seen as an outsider and – even more strangely – in her absence the inhabitants of Lost Creek seem to take wholly changed their attitude to Kyra, almost venerating her and the art which had become her refuge during the dark times.

Corey is puzzled by her friend’s death and isn’t inclined to take the official version at face value. Her enquiries set her at odds with almost everyone in town, but Corey has no intention of giving up on her Kyra’s memory. She wants the truth, no matter how many people are determined to stand in her way.

Marieke Nijkamp skilfully evokes the chill of Alaska, but the biggest chills come not from the snowy landscape but in the subtle depictions of Kyra’s art, which lies at the heart of this story. Art is what finally forged a connection between Kyra and Lost Creek and it is that art that Corey is striving to understand. The word pictures woven by Nijkamp are so vivid that I felt I was looking directly at the paintings and drawings themselves as they were conjured up before me with deceptive ease.

The story shifts between past and present and various narrative devices are used, including transcripts of conversations. Gradually the two timelines converge and Corey’s quest for the truth starts to reach out inexorably to the heart of the complex relationship that had been forged between Kyra and the town of Lost Creek. There’s an almost dreamlike quality to the narrative at times and I felt like I was out in an Alaskan snowstorm, not able to see clearly in any direction, but gradually the air cleared and the truth of Kyra’s death started to be revealed.

This story of two 17-year-olds, their friendship and Kyra’s struggles with her mental health is told with honesty, compassion and – at times – humour. There is a strong sense of place and an even stronger sense of the importance of friendship, tolerance and the need for a better understanding of those judged society to be ‘different’. My heart ached at times for both Corey and Kyra, but ultimately, this is not a book without hope.

Reviewed 27 October 2018 by Linda Wilson