✍🏻 Professor Romance’s More than 5 ⭐️ Review: An Open Letter to Kennedy Ryan about Before I Let Go âœðŸ»

Dear Kennedy Ryan,

If you’re not Kennedy Ryan, feel free to check out these words, but this is an open letter via the review route for her. Kennedy, you are a GD wordsmith, a poet, a goddess of the written word. Living in Before I Let Go has been nothing short of a painful reflection. I’ve had your book for some time, and I’ve waited on reading it because I knew it would require an internal fortitude that I haven’t had with books that reflect the real nature of love and marriage. At its core, Before I Let Go is an examination of the difficulties of marriage in the face of external traumas. To face that can be anxiety-inducing and difficult, but frankly, it’s necessary. This fiction you write under the reductive title of romance asks us to face our situations as a means to make better choices; you’re an exacting taskmaster, requiring your readers to experience their lives through the specter of your work. It’s why you’re a brilliant author, why your books are finding themselves on best-of lists. Yes, people want a release from the doldrums of life through fiction, but more importantly, they want to be seen too. And you do this brilliantly with Before I Let Go

These are the simple, yet complex truths of your book as I see it (for whatever that’s worth).

Mental health has, until recently, been a lower-order priority in our world. People have lived with pain, stuffing down woe out of the shame of appearing weak. Men, especially, as your book suggests. Even more, men of color have borne this struggle more heartily. Before I Let Go illustrates this beautifully through Yas, Josiah, and Kassim. Josiah and Yas process their trauma in very different ways showing the spectrum of grief and depression. In a way, Josiah represents the old guard at first, a former generation that called on both men and women to eat their pain and move forward, planting deep wounds in their psyches. Each forward action was meant to undergird the character of the person. Instead, over the years, it cripples in the face of future trials. New woes push into old bruises, walls become fortresses, and vulnerability is erased, creating difficulties for relationships. We see this represented initially in Josiah. 

Yas becomes the in-between. She illustrates the learning of mental health, the investigative process. She’s the sojourner of this journey, testing and failing and trying again. Through this practice, she finds progress and becomes the purveyor of understanding in handling Kassim’s experience.

And Kassim represents the now, the space where generations such as Gen Z feel more comfortable leaning into their mental health difficulties. He represents the promise of future generations asking for help and receiving it. He represents the promise of men, especially men of color, living more vulnerable lives, stating that they aren’t okay, and being comfortable with an imperfect masculinity, one that doesn’t need to fix and protect and explain trauma away.

If readers leave your book, Before I Let Go, and miss all of this, if they get lost in the romance portion of this book (which is okay because, darn it, you craft love stories that transcend time and space), then we’re missing the impact that your book has the power to make on changing attitudes about mental health struggles. It’s essential that our world changes its perspectives and takes action. And this book is a manifesto of that truth.

What I love most about you is how you connect the community. In book after book, women as a community is a common theme. They edify, exhort, and entertain, which is true of Before I Let Go. Yas, Hendrix, and Soledad together are strong. They are newer friends, but an emotional and mental support nonetheless. They become as essential as your main characters because they speak wisdom into their situations. One of my favorite parts comes in the latter part of the book when it’s revealed that Yas has been sleeping with Josiah. When Yas divulges her secrets, it gifts Hen and Sol the space to do so as well. It’s then that they are empowered to feel feelings and make plans for action. You remind us that the female community is necessary for uplifting women. 

Even more distinct is you as a BIPOC author. Your books share the experiences of your race and culture. Since you are a masterful storyteller, you invite all readers into this space, educating and illuminating. Your voice is my favorite portion of your stories because it grants me entry on your terms. However, you connect us to a shared experience: infant loss, marriage difficulties, divorce, depression and anxiety, parenthood, etc. You graft your identity as a person of color with others’ identities seamlessly, reminding us that, while our skin might have different shades, we can see our experiences reflected in the experiences of diverse others. 

As I was reading Before I Let Go, I felt the pain of Josiah and Yasmen’s broken relationship because I live in a broken relationship. Do we have different experiences, come from different cultures and racial backgrounds? Yes. Yet, am I able to understand the pain of not being understood, of different grief processes? Absolutely! You write viscerally emotive, artfully decadent romance. You feel it in your bones, your heart, your mind, and your spirit. Call me dramatic, but I leave your books altered, enlightened, and challenged. Every. Single.Time. 

I hope readers don’t miss on reading Before I Let Go because it’s a difficult subject, because it will put them through their paces, or because it will make readers uncomfortable. The beauty of your books is their promise: romances end in happy endings. After the journey of a thousand tears, the payoff for this newest book is a pot of gold filled with hope.

In love and romance,

Professor A


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