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Book Review: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp

Publisher’s description

From the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller This Is Where It Ends comes another unforgettable story of loss, hope, betrayal, and the quest for truth

Best friends Corey and Kyra were inseparable in their snow-covered town of Lost Creek, Alaska. When Corey moves away, she makes Kyra promise to stay strong during the long, dark winter, and wait for her return.

Just days before Corey is to return home to visit, Kyra dies. Corey is devastated—and confused. The entire Lost community speaks in hushed tones about the town’s lost daughter, saying her death was meant to be. And they push Corey away like she’s a stranger.

Corey knows something is wrong. With every hour, her suspicion grows. Lost is keeping secrets—chilling secrets. But piecing together the truth about what happened to her best friend may prove as difficult as lighting the sky in an Alaskan winter…

 

Amanda’s thoughts

before iYour number one thought while reading this book will be WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH THE PEOPLE IN LOST CREEK, ALASKA? The one word that will crop up most in your thoughts as you read is OMINOUS. Trust me. 

 

The last Corey knew, her best friend Kyra had been receiving treatment for her bipolar disorder through both medication and therapy. There had been talk of her getting further help at a facility in Fairbanks. But now Kyra is dead, and the entire tiny town of Lost Creek, Alaska (a tight-knit community that doesn’t take kindly to outsiders) seems to view her death as an inevitable act that not only was foretold, but was good and necessary. It was her time. Her time! Yep. The girl was mentally ill and now the town is saying that it’s okay she died (she fell through the ice) because she had found her purpose and served it.

Again, may I point you back to WHAT ON EARTH IS WRONG WITH THE PEOPLE IN LOST CREEK, ALASKA?

Corey’s family moved from Lost Creek a while back, so the closed community now considers her an outsider. They are NOT HAPPY that she has returned to town and that she is horrified by what she begins to uncover about the way the town was treating Kyra and the things that led up to her death. Kyra’s mother claims that Kyra was happy near the end, that she’d changed, that she’d found her place (in a town that, last Corey has seen, shunned Kyra because of her bipolar disorder). Her mother tells Corey that Kyra was no longer receiving any treatment, but that love and belonging made her better. Thank goodness Corey knows that’s garbage. She digs around to find the truth of what was going on in Lost Creek and is shocked when she learns just how exactly the town was “embracing” Kyra.

Parts of the story are told through letters and flashbacks. Through these, we learn more about what Kyra was actually going through and feeling as well as more about the history of Kyra and Corey’s friendship (like the fact that pansexual Kyra and asexual Corey shared a kiss that briefly seemed to complicate things).

There is a LOT to discuss here regarding mental health. Lost Creek treats her first as an outcast, then as a prophet—both extremely troubling notions. If we didn’t have Corey in the mix, pointing out how ludicrous all of that is, reminding us that therapy and medication treat mental illness, not some completely messed up idea of “belonging” and “love” (that’s not love, Lost Creek), I probably would’ve literally thrown this book across the room. Kyra’s mental illness is romanticized by the people of Lost Creek, and while Nijkamp (and Corey) take her illness seriously and are concerned, no one else in town does. Kyra is exploited and never properly supported. She is abandoned. It is shocking that anyone, much less a whole town, would treat ANYONE, much less someone with mental illness, this way. They are cruel, ill-informed, and, frankly, awful people. Nearly all of them—nearly all of the town. We never really learn how or why an entire town became so terribly cruel. I hope readers will really pay attention to Corey’s point of view, and understand that what the town did was deeply wrong, yes, but what Kyra’s parents did, the people who should have been advocating for her and TREATING her, was much, much worse. Despite the entire town feeling like Kyra was magical and served some grand purpose (and then died), it’s clear that untreated mental illness is a terrible thing, and that Lost Creek is one messed up place. Hand this to readers who like spooky-feeling stories that will leave them rather enraged at the gross injustice of a life lost. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781492642282
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 01/02/2018

Book Review: The Ocean in My Ears by Meagan Macvie

Publisher’s description

ra6Meri Miller lives in Soldotna, Alaska. Never heard of it? That’s because in Slowdotna the most riveting activities for a teenager are salmon fishing and grabbing a Big Gulp at the local 7-Eleven. More than anything, Meri wants to hop in her VW Bug and head somewhere exciting, like New York or L.A. or any city where going to the theater doesn’t only mean the movies. Everything is so scripted here—don’t have too much fun, date this guy because he’s older and popular, stay put because that’s what everyone else does.

But when her senior year should be all boys, SAT prep, and prom drama, Meri feels more and more distance between herself and the people she loves. Her grandma dies, her brother gets hurt, and even her best friend checks out to spend more time with some guy. As she struggles with family, grief, friends, and hormones, Meri must decide if she really is ready for the world beyond her backyard.

Meagan Macvie’s debut novel, The Ocean in My Ears , raises questions of love, purpose, and the power to choose your own future even when your future’s the thing that scares you the most.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

the oceanMeri is complex. Heading into her senior year of high school, she’s desperate to leave her tiny Alaska town (a town known for two things—salmon fishing and having the highest per capita teen birthrate in the nation), but also terrified of leaving behind everything she knows. She has sex with a creepy older guy she’s dating but is also worried that it’s a sin and she might regret it (also, he’s a terrible human being but she hangs out with him for waaaaay too long). She doesn’t reveal anything about her life to her distant (both emotionally and physically) parents but longs for someone to do some parenting and for them to maybe understand her or even just see her. She has big dreams and big doubts. She’s been raised in a religious setting, having gone to Christian school until junior high. Her mother, and the church, repeatedly drive home the point that sex outside of marriage is a sin. It’s terrible, awful, you will go to hell, you will get diseases, you will get pregnant. Meri hears all of this but still wants to make her own choices, come to her own conclusions. It’s never easy stumbling your way through adolescence (the only way through is by stumbling, I think), but Meri is having a particularly hard time senior year. Her dad is either always off working in the oil fields or at home ordering her around, her grandma is dying (and her mom is gone for much of the book in Idaho tending to Meri’s grandma), her best friend has ditched her for a boy, and she likes Joaquin, a nice dude who she worries her parents won’t approve of, but instead dates jerky oaf Brett. She’s trying to figure out what she wants in life, but that’s hard to do in her tiny, isolated town with the constant talk of judging, sinning, and Satan.

 

Set in 1990, this look at a small town girl feeling trapped, frustrated, and ready to explore bigger horizons will appeal to fans of Carrie Mesrobian’s Just a Girl and other realistic YA where the main plot is the day-to-day existence of a teenager just trying to figure it all out. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781932010947
Publisher: Ooligan Press
Publication date: 11/07/2017