Before I Let Go is a book with many problems, but the main ones – the ones that led me to not like this book – are two: marketing and characterization.
Everything about this book – the cover, the premise, the way the story is set up – makes you think this book is a mystery. It’s not. Not only you already know what has happened, before half of the book you also know why and how. There’s no plot twist or revelation, because Before I Let Go is not actually a mystery book and wasn’t written as one. It’s a story about the horrors of inspiration porn, and as far as this aspect went, this book did a great job with it.
This book isn’t scary because there are suspenseful scenes or a mysterious killer, not really. This is creepy because Lost’s inhabitants’ behavior – they ostracized a bipolar girl, used her art produced during her manic episodes an “inspiration”, withheld medication and therapy from her, let her die because they believed she would be “more at peace” dead – it’s the way some real people act.
This book is creepy because it reminds you that there are many people who only care about disabled people when they’re dead. There’s a reason sicklit – the ~inspirational~ books in which sick people die to make the audience cry – is far more popular than any book with a disabled/chronically ill main character doing anything but dying for shock value.
Before I Let Go is not a mystery, but you get into the book thinking it’s going to be one, and then it’s not surprising when readers judge it as one (and: as a mystery book, it’s very mediocre at best). I’m not sure this approach worked, even without thinking about misleading premises: the message was clear, but the execution was so repetitive I wanted to DNF this book halfway through. Corey spends the whole book wandering around Lost, trying to understand how Kyra died, and people tell her that Kyra was happy, it was her time to die. Every single conversation.
I could have said the main problem with Before I Let Go was that the book is boring, but “boring” was only a symptom of the repetitive plotline and absent characterization. I can understand why Kyra never felt like more than her illness – she was dead at the beginning of the story and the town never left her be more than her illness – but I don’t like it, and I didn’t like that Corey, our very much alive main character, had even less personality. Let’s not talk about the side characters, they were so flat there’s nothing to say.
I actually liked Kyra and Corey’s relationship and some of their conversations, but I didn’t feel strongly about it.
Kyra (pansexual) and Corey (aroace) are both queer, and their relationship was never romantic. Corey never uses the word “aromantic”, but her being aroace is established so clearly in-text that I didn’t feel like there was any ambiguity – she says that she doesn’t have crushes and that she doesn’t feel romantic or sexual attraction. She only uses the word “asexual”, but she never says she doesn’t feel romantic attraction because she’s asexual, so I didn’t have any problem with this.
What I had a problem with is that this is the first YA book with an aromantic narrator I’ve ever found and it was Not Good.
I liked that by the end of the story we don’t know if Kyra was actually magical or not. It doesn’t matter, what they did to her was wrong anyway. I would have wanted to know what the whole “ghost” thing was about, though.
I don’t have anything to say about the writing – it was as bland, monotonous and flat as Corey’s personality.
My rating: ★★½
Edit [04/25/2018]: You know what? This stayed with me a lot more than I thought it would. Its emptiness is haunting and there’s something subtly terrifying about this whole narrative. So yes, I’m rounding this up, even if it’s not a full three star. I still agree with everything I said in this review, but maybe the actual rating is closer to a three than a two.