Before I Let Go
Grade : A

Do you ever find yourself putting off the really great books? The ones that you know will be deeply moving, that will chew you up and spit you out emotionally, leaving you in a daze as you circle through and process everything that happened in this other world, to this other group of people? I felt some of that with Before I Let Go. It’s the story of a divorced couple reuniting, and I knew that in the hands of Kennedy Ryan it would be an emotional rollercoaster and likely have me crying.

I was right. Before I Let Go is an amazing book, but not the ‘throw in your bag and bring to the beach’ kind. It’s more of the ‘pack a box of tissues and hole up in your room’ type, but don’t let that deter you from this beautiful love story.

The book opens on what may feel like a familiar scene to many people – Yasmen Wade is in the car with her two children, having just picked them up from school. She is struggling to connect with her older daughter Deja, who has looked at her with scorn since Yasmen and her husband Josiah divorced. Her younger son Kassim is still sweet to her, but sometimes seems to have the cares of the world on his shoulders. They all bicker a little as Yasmen brings them to see their father and she and Josiah do an awkward two-step around each other, caught between the memories of intimacy and the reality of divorce. It’s an exhausting merry-go-round of emotion, but as the day winds down Yasmen reflects that even this bickering and awkwardness is better than who she was before.

This is the first insight we get into why Yasmen’s marriage and family broke down. For all that they fight occasionally, there is no real animosity between Yasmen and Josiah. They still successfully manage Grits, the restaurant that they own together, and they don’t exhibit the contempt for each other which is such a death blow to marriages. Instead they are just weary, beaten down by the tragedies they have endured and the way their communication fell apart in the aftermath.

We come to learn that the catalyst for Yasmen and Josiah’s divorce was the deaths of Josiah’s aunt (a stand-in mother to both of them, and original chef of Grits) and their unborn son, which happened in quick succession. Yasmen and Josiah had very different ways of processing their grief, with Yasmen falling into a deep depression while Josiah suppressed all emotion and focused on managing their suddenly struggling business. Their communication abruptly fell apart, with neither one feeling supported or heard as they handled the fallout. And so Yasmen tapped out, unable to bear the weight of what she perceived Josiah’s expectations to be at a time when she could barely get out of bed.

A few years later, therapy has worked wonders for Yasmen and she’s finally feeling normal again, if not exactly like her old self. She mourns the losses her family has endured, including the loss of her closeness with her daughter. But she’s also determined to forge them a new path forward, which includes finding a way to accept Josiah moving on with other women and possibly getting out there herself. Yet somehow, each of these little steps she and Josiah take seem to lead them back to each other.

It’s funny to think how simple the sentence “they found their way back to each other” is, when it takes a whole book to tell that story. Ryan does a good job exploring what went wrong with Yasmen and Josiah’s relationship in the past without overloading the book with flashbacks, and also shows all the ways they are addressing those issues this time around. Josiah offers to see a therapist himself, and finds it unexpectedly helpful in understanding the very mixed emotions he feels toward Yasmen. Based on that new understanding, they’re able to work through issues in a new way, with more productive outcomes.

One of the things I liked best about this story was how clear it was that Yasmen and Josiah loved each other all along – and how it’s equally clear that love alone is not enough when the other person can’t feel it. It’s the difficult truth of relationships, and it makes their fights and issues feel all the more real. It’s painful and beautiful to watch this couple work through their issues – but so satisfying to know that they truly do get to the heart of things, and that they’ll be stronger for it in the future.

As all truly good books do, Before I Let Go has stayed with me. Kennedy Ryan does a great job of opening up the intricacies of one couple’s relationship, but also manages to invite the reader into a whole community. The food, the traditions, the hair products – every detail is put into this book intentionally, and it shows. It doesn’t promise to be an easy read, but it is most definitely a good one!

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local bookshop

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Reviewed by Alexandra Anderson

Grade: A

Sensuality: Warm

Review Date : December 21, 2022

Publication Date: 11/2022

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Alexandra Anderson

College student by day. Book enthusiast around the clock. With any luck I'll eventually be able to afford food AND books. But I've got my priorities straight.
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