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Do you want an author take you apart and put you back together again? Soothe you and make you curl up in a ball in the corner… Kennedy Ryan is that author and Before I Let Go is such a book.
This book, this book.
Josiah, Si and Yasmen, Yas, are a divorced couple who are simply trying to navigate their new normal. Having suffered monumental losses; the loss of a child before birth and a close family member, Yasmen sunk into the depths of depression that shut her down and bring her to a stand still whilst Josiah copped the only way he knew how; by keeping on the wheel. They run a business together, a successful restaurant that would have been otherwise if he had not kept peddling the wheel, a restaurant that is representative of their love, from the very beginning, it is a visible and very physical history of them and the community that fostered them. It means more.
Yasmen in a fog of grief initiated the divorce and Si will never forgive her for that nor will he let her forget. So we meet them on Yas’s other side, her coming out through the worst of it. Si has started dating someone else, their head chef at the restaurant… bloody hell what is wrong with mans dem? I don’t care how much evolved you are you simply should not bring this close to home, not least someone who will have to deal with you and your ex-partner. Buy some sense please. In any case with Si moving on, Yasmen decides she too ought to move on with her love life…
These two knuckle heads, of course they find their way back to each other, but they have to make it harder for us readers innit. The lives they share together; children, a business, friends, family seem to tug them ever so gently back to one another without that force of a push. That will be the work of the two people involved. But it makes the journey for us readers even more of a pull. This book is doing the work and then some. Ryan absolutely, expertly, wields that angsts that takes the reader on a rollercoaster of emotions whilst gently asking us to stick with her and we will because we know she’s got us covered. It still doesn’t mean the journey will not be a rollercoaster ride in a way that makes you scream, cry, kiss your teeth, and want to cuss someone out. I did all these in every sense of the word.
There’s a kind of growth that is deep and rare in most works of fiction, it is an inner growth that trudges through the darkness to make us earn that light. With her words, Ryan walks us through those murky steps, especially with Yasmen’s past and Josiah’s present. The hard, dark grief of loss and the depth to which she sunk, depths which Si could never know because he is still looking at her through the lens of someone who broke his heart and not the woman who lost as much and then some. That woman he will have to fight hard to see, the fight is with himself and his therapist is his coach. The way in which Ryan uses therapy to enlighten us as readers whilst also leaning hard into the societal beliefs about therapy is nothing short of a masterpiece at the same time she leans ferociously into the societal attitudes prevalent in the real world; men in therapy, specifically Black men in therapy. This book does that important work of being as messy and as uplifting and enlightening.
Apart from teenagers being arseholes because sorry you lot are, there is also the way in which children deal with a home that has been broken, their safe space that has been emptied of emotion, that should shelter them from the world outside of it. Oh darling Seem, such a delightful little boy.
I love this book, the community, the found family, the shared sense of loss and love, the important work of finding oneself in the darkness and trying to see the light no matter how deem, always trying to reach for it. The book is heavy at times but there is a lightness to Ryan’s writing that balances things out. The writing is outstanding. The story is important with a show of a emotion so rare and so fine… it feels unreal at times. If you are a parent going through a divorce, I’ve never been through one, but it feels like parts of this book will help… I don’t know its just a thought.
Kennedy Ryan takes us through the emotions of love; all of it; its messy, and scary and hard and soft, and insecure and easy…it should be all of those things and yet, yet, it can never be perfect which is in itself the joy of love.