Riley Weston is probably best known to many as former writer on the late 1990s-early 2000s Fox series, Felicity. When her first novel, Before I Go, came across my desk I was skeptical but intrigued. Diving in, I found that Ms. Weston has crafted a beautiful story about friendship, love, understanding, and loss that will appeal to young adults and their parents.
The characters are beautifully developed and the descriptions so vivid that I was immediately transported into Madison's world. It is a world filled with competitive ice-skating, her mom and coach Annie, and Jackson Wellington III. It is a love story between Maddie and her mom and Maddie and Jack all rolled into one.
Maddie meets Jack when she is six and he is seven, facing off over a single yellow balloon. From that point on, they are inseparable friends and soulmates. Madison's days are filled with early mornings and late nights at the rink, which leaves little time for making friends. But Jack is always there. Jack grows up to be a handsome, popular jock, while few pay attention to Maddie. However, Jack always remains closest to Madison, regardless of what his popular friends may think.
Madison's relationship with her mom, Annie, is typical of the love/hate relationship experienced between mothers and daughters during the teen years, complicated by the fact that Annie is also her coach. When Maddie becomes exhausted, beyond what even her non-stop training requires, Annie pushes her to continue – as a coach because they are so close to their goal of the Olympics, and as a mom because she doesn't want to face what Maddie's abnormal fatigue might really mean.
Annie and Madison's relationship is the crux of the book. The love between Jack and Maddie is playful, tender, and bittersweet. How each person, each relationship, deals with Madison's illness is portrayed with sadness, humor, and love. The one complaint that some people may have with Before I Go is the “he’s there but invisible” portrayal of Madison’s father. He obviously loves his wife and child very much, but gets very little in return. There are a couple of scenes where he attempts to show his wife affection but is interrupted because she has to run off to yet another skating commitment. I was a little bit bothered that the father's emotional reaction to Madison’s death wasn’t explored in the book more, since he was part of the household.
Before I Go does not have a storybook "happy" ending. While I admit I was emotional during the closing chapters of the book, I ultimately came away from the book feeling happy that Maddie and Jack had experienced a true love as few of us do. Before I Go is a wonderfully written book and is highly recommended for anyone looking for a love story with a message.