The Pre-Sloane Emily didn’t go to parties, she barely talked to guys, she didn’t do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—the one who yanks you out of your shell.But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just… disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list. On it, thirteen Sloane-selected-definitely-bizarre-tasks that Emily would never try… unless they could lead back to her best friend. Apple Picking at Night? Ok, easy enough.Dance until Dawn? Sure. Why not? Kiss a Stranger? Wait… what?
Getting through Sloane’s list would mean a lot of firsts. But Emily has this whole unexpected summer ahead of her, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected) to check things off. Who knows what she’ll find?
Go Skinny Dipping? Um…
Since You’ve Been Gone was my most anticipated contemporary YA of this spring – I LOVED Morgan Matson’s first novel, Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour. I loved it so much that she inspired me to start writing my own novel…which is currently sitting dustily on my computer. ANYWAY.
Because Matson has previously written about loss, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book about the loss of a friendship – one that the protagonist, Emily, feels deeply. Emily is a kind of shy, timid teenager when we first meet her – she’s a girl who only gets noticed when she’s around her wild best friend, Sloane.
Because of Sloane, Emily has done a lot of things she never thought she could do – she’s gone to parties, she’s made out with guys, and she’s had the kind of best friend that a lot of us only dream of – one who she can call or text at any moment with a silly idea, and one she can always count on to deliver her “best night ever.” But now that Sloane has disappeared for the summer, Emily feels completely bereft. This was a little hard for me to connect with because I’ve never had a friendship that wound so tightly into my existence.
The thing is, Matson writes the book so that you DO believe that Emily would feel this badly about Sloane leaving. The more I got into Emily’s character, the more I understood – it’s like she’s in mourning for Sloane, and she doesn’t know who or what to do with herself because so much of her is about Sloane. The only thing she can do is follow a list of crazy tasks that Sloane has left for her (Hug a Jamie. The backless dress – and somewhere to wear it. Kiss a stranger…etc), and hopefully, Sloane will come back and everything will go back to being how it used to be.
As a reader, you know where this is going. Everything is not going to be the same, and Emily will have to grow and change because of it. But despite that slightly obvious concept, Matson never lost me as a reader. I never felt like I was reading a single cliche because of how beautifully and cleverly she unfolds the story, through both her words and the plotting. Each chapter in Since You’ve Been Gone is titled with one of the tasks that Sloane has given Emily, and within each chapter, there’s usually a flashback to a time when Emily is hanging out with Sloane. These flashbacks illuminate Sloane and Emily’s character and why Emily is being assigned that task.
But they also illuminate how much Emily has built Sloane up into a magical, ideal best friend. The more I read about Sloane, the more I thought, “Manic Pixie Dream Girl alert!”- that is, a character who is so charming and the perfect romantic foil who shows up at the precise right moment for no other reason than to push the main character along his/her path. What’s interesting with this version of the MPDG conceit is that Sloane is that person for another girl, and their relationship is not romantic. Moreover, the more you find out about Sloane and Emily through flashbacks, the more you realize that Sloane is only an MPDG to Emily – she might not be that in reality.
This is one of the masterful, deceptive strokes of this beautiful book – that it is not only a sweet summer romance and a journey of self-discovery – but that it’s also a book that deals so realistically with friendship and how we relate to people. I felt like the story was unique because of that friendship – losing oneself in one’s friends is something that happens often, but isn’t explored much in YA.
I’m making this review sound very serious, but Since You’ve Been Gone is actually a lot of fun – and funny! The list of tasks that Sloane leaves for Emily makes for a lot of daring moments, and that, plus Emily’s new friends and acquaintances that she meets during the summer, creates hilarious and meaningful moments that had me squealing in delight.
Since You’ve Been Gone had me from page one. I read in huge, giant chunks with not a lot of time in between because it was SO delightful. I couldn’t stop reading or thinking about the book – it felt like Morgan Matson reached in and squeezed my heart after every single chapter. This is one of those books where you almost don’t want it to end because you’re enjoying it so much – but at the same time, you can’t wait for it to end so you can read it all over again.
Kick-Arse Secondary Characters: I love EVERYONE in this book. Every single secondary character is a gem, from Emily’s parents, the playwrights, to her little daredevil brother Beckett, to Dawn, the pizza delivery girl to Collins, the doofy best friend of Emily’s love interest, Frank (more on him in a second). I even love Emily’s sort of ex, Gideon, the quiet guy who wants to be more, but was only a convenience to Emily. I’m just listing people at this point, but know this: Matson never takes the easy way out with any of these characters. They all have real personality quirks, and even if they only show up for a few seconds, they are beautifully imagined and surprising every time.
|Frank is like Colin Hanks in Orange County…sorta?|
The Love Interest Who Is Not the Typical Hot Boy: FRANK PORTER, be mine! Ok, first of all – how often is the love interest in a book a class president? Frank is a super-focused dude who goes after causes…but he’s not the most popular, hot guy, and he’s definitely not a guy who’s nerdy. Basically, he’s just a really good leader who just kind of wants to be a normal guy. His relationship with Emily is so evenly-paced, and so well-developed…this is the opposite of insta-love, guys, and I LOVED it.
Knock-Me-Over-On-My-Ass Writing: Morgan Matson writes beautiful prose. It’s a rare writer who can use SAT words, name-drop playwrights in an eloquent way, and still write in the very authentic voice of a teenager. It’s an even rarer author who can take a book with what I consider to be a very simple concept, and make it into such a meaningful story. What Matson has is finesse – the ability to not only write the words clearly and succinctly, but to round out each sentence, each chapter, and each moment so that the words kind of curl around your heart like a blanket and leave you feeling hugged. Here are some examples:
“But that was my best friend, the kind of girl your eyes went to in a crowd. While she was beautiful – wavy hair, bright blue eyes, perfect skin dotted with freckles – this didn’t fully explain it. It was like she knew a secret, a good one, and if you got close enough, maybe she’d tell you, too.”
– Since You’ve Been Gone, Morgan Matson
“I closed my eyes only to open them once more, and make sure it was all still there – the riot of stars above me, this whole other world existing just out of reach.”
– Since You’ve Been Gone, Morgan Matson
The Final Word:
One of my biggest wishlist items for YA is more about friendships – and friendships dealt with realistically. Since You’ve Been Gone delivers on that, and then some. This is a book about taking chances on friendship, about letting go and holding on, and about carving your own path in life. It’s a book with adorable romances and moments that can only happen when you’re a teen. And it’s a book about bravery and strength. This is a book that any girl – and some boys, I’m sure – can relate to. I’m inspired by Emily, and I know that I will definitely learning from – and re-reading Since You’ve Been Gone several times in the future.
Are you excited for SINCE YOU’VE BEEN GONE? Have you read any of Morgan Matson’s other novels, Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour or Second Chance Summer? Are you a summer book or a bucket list girl/guy? Let me know in the comments!