This is a story of two sisters, who are polar opposites, bound by love and co-dependency. Lexie, the older sister, has everything to lose: her medical career, her house and her fiancé Sam. Annie is a heroin addict and has lost everything: her self respect, her job, her house. When Annie turns up, Lexie’s world turns to chaos. Last time Annie turned up needing Lexie’s help, Annie’s behaviour almost cost Lexie her job. But Lexie is all Annie has. She can’t turn her sister away.
After two years of silence, Annie rings Lexie at 2am in urgent needs of help. Annie is heavily pregnant, still using heroin and showing signs of pre-eclampsia. In Alabama substance abuse in pregnancy is a criminal offense. Annie knows she is really sick but is too afraid to go to hospital because she will fail the drug test and be prosecuted for using drugs whilst pregnant. This puts Lexie and Sam, who are both doctors, into a difficult position as they try to help her get appropriate treatment and navigate the legal consequences of this. There is also conflict between Sam and Lexie, as Lexie tries to protect Sam from the chaos, while he tries to support her and be included in decisions that will significantly impact on their future.
The chapters alternate between Lexie’s narrative of current events and Annie’s journal entries to her counsellor in detox. This is a clever technique that adds background to current events and reveals how intricately the sisters lives are woven together. Annie’s journal entries personify her. As I read them I began to share Lexie’s perception of Annie, as a person who is an addict, and also Lexie’s hope that she may overcome the addiction. The awful history behind Annie’s addiction and self-destructive behaviour becomes evident through the journal entries. The reader alone understands the full story and thus holds the keys to understanding Annie, which everyone else is grasping for. This caused me to feel heavily invested in Annie’s recovery.
Before I Let You Go is a moving story about the social implications of prosecuting pregnant women who are battling a substance abuse. It explores the implications for the woman herself, her baby who will spend weeks withdrawing from the substances it was exposed to in utero, and her family. Rimmer skilfully depicts the conflicting feelings of love, anger and revulsion that Lexie experiences towards her sister and the implications of her addiction for the baby. As a doctor Lexie has insight into the way other health care professionals and law enforcement professionals view Annie, the addict, and shares their disgust, but she also sees Annie, her sister, whom she is devoted to. Lexie also reflects on the depersonalisation of Annie that occurs when the legal focus is only on the welfare of the baby and the impact of this on Annie’s rights.
The bittersweet ending is realistic and effectively brings closure for the reader who is drawn into Lexie’s agonising journey to help her beloved sister, Annie, fight addiction and have the opportunity to raise her own child. Before I Let You Go is an emotive and memorable story.