Monday, March 26, 2018

Book Review: Before I Let You Go

By Jami Deise

From the days of Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, we view addiction as a failure of character and willpower, not a perfect storm of personal pain and neurotransmitter dysfunction. It’s common knowledge that the opioid epidemic is sweeping the country. But it’s one thing to read that over 64,000 people died of drug overdoses in the United States in 2016, and another to be swept along in the story of a single addict. Even if that story is fiction… perhaps especially if that story is fiction. Studies have shown that, more than reading non-fiction, reading fiction leads people to develop empathy. If there’s anything that this country needs to battle this epidemic, it’s empathy—empathy for those suffering with this disease. Too many see addiction as a disease that the sufferer brought onto herself.

Stories like Before I Let You Go will help develop that empathy. Kelly Rimmer’s latest novel deserves the widest possible audience. While the book is clearly based on extensive research, at no point does it ever feel that the author is lecturing. This not an entertaining read. This is the kind of read that changes hearts and minds, that could possibly change lives.

Dr. Lexie Vidler seems to have a charmed life. She’s engaged to a surgeon, Sam; they’ve moved into a cute house, and she enjoys her job at a clinic. All this is disrupted by a 2:00am call from her sister, Annie. Annie is a heroin addict, and Lexie hasn’t heard from her in years – since Annie broke into Lexie’s clinic for drugs. Now Annie is pregnant and desperate. And once again, Lexie can’t turn away from her sister.

Amazon pitches Before I Let You Go as a family saga, and while the relationship between the sisters is at its heart, it feels so much more sweeping than that. While Annie is a specific, unique, and very well-defined character, she also represents every woman who’s become caught in the system because of how pregnant addicts are treated—especially in red-state Alabama, where the story takes place. Again, it’s one thing to read about laws that lock up women whose infants are born with narcotics in their bloodstreams—and to read about the suffering these babies go through as they withdraw—but it’s so much more personal when reading about the character who’s living it. Annie knows she risks losing custody of her baby and going to jail if she goes to the hospital, which will test her urine. So why would she go? How do laws like these help addicts and their babies?

The story is told from two points-of-view: Lexie’s first-person account, and Annie’s as written in her journal. At first, I thought my sympathies would be primarily with Lexie, who tried so hard to help her sister. But as Annie’s story unfolded, it was impossible not to empathize with her. She tells a story of two sisters whose lives are upended when their father dies, whose mother then marries into a Christian cult that forces them into stereotypical gender roles, and worse. Lexie escapes at 16, but by the time Annie can get out, the damage is done.

Through the journal, Annie’s personality shines through. While Lexie is able to play the good girl and hide her true self, Annie was born to question authority, and she does it even when she knows she’ll suffer for it. Rimmer does a sensitive job in never blaming Annie for this character trait, but cluing in readers that it’s something that might hinder her recovery. Her descriptions of using heroin are so specific and sensory, it’s not hard to understand how addiction results.

Lexie’s fiancé Sam also plays an important role in the drama, although both Lexie and readers sometimes feel he’s too good to be true. Annie’s counselor Luke and the sisters’ mother also figure in.

Even as readers will hope that Annie will overcome her demons, Rimmer tells a realistic story that cannot provide a clean, happy ending. The most she can do is offer insight into the life of a creative, strong-willed, loving, stubborn woman whose troubled childhood led to the disease of addiction. It’s one small step toward solving this crisis, but it’s a step nonetheless.

Thanks to Little Bird Publicity for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Kelly Rimmer:

1 comment:

Janine said...

Great review. This sounds like a book I could relate too.