I am not lost…

December 24, 2014

Book Review – Since You’ve Been Gone

I received a copy of this novel via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

I’ve had a little bit of a hit-or-miss vibe with the books I’ve gotten from NetGalley. Sometimes they’re lovely, other times they’re The Chase. But I’ve had better luck with their young adult stuff than I have the rest, so when a book shows up with the tagline of “Is it possible to outrun your past?” comes around, I’m clicking on that email.

Here’s the official blurb:

Fifteen-year-old Edie Fraser and her mother, Sydney, have been trying to outrun their past for five years. Now, things have gone from bad to worse. Not only has Edie had to move to another new school—-she’s in a different country.

Sydney promises her that this is their chance at a fresh start, and Edie does her best to adjust to life in London, England, despite being targeted by the school bully. But when Sydney goes out to work the night shift and doesn’t come home, Edie is terrified that the past has finally caught up with them.

Alone in a strange country, Edie is afraid to call the police for fear that she’ll be sent back to her abusive father. Determined to find her mother, but with no idea where to start, she must now face the most difficult decision of her life.

….Oooooh. I’m sold.

I download the book, and for once, manage to read it in time. (This is occasionally a problem with me and NetGalley books. I’m not pleased with this.) The beginning is abrupt, and a little disturbing. (They leave a kitty all on its own! Don’t make me cry in the first or second chapter! What are you, Up?!)

The book flows nicely into the rest of the story, taking the story from Canada into London–a city I love, even if I don’t know it well. You don’t have to be intimately familiar with the city to enjoy the book (since after all, Edie is new to London as well) but a dose of familiarity does suit the reader well. And if you have any experience with being the new kid at school, particularly one too many times, then Edie’s story will hit home very closely.

As Edie struggles to come to terms with what her mother not coming home really means, she struggles with her morals, with first impressions, and with being forced out of her comfort zone too quickly and in too many ways. Her shadow for most of the book, a young man named Jermaine Lewis, is a believable young man with a reputation that gets him in trouble. He’s rough, quiet, and intimidating. As with everything else in the book, however, there is more to him than meets the eye. He and Edie spend a good chunk of the book together, and the note they end on is not at all where I expected the book to leave them.

Since You’ve Been Gone moves quickly–perhaps too quickly. I got to the end of the book, and was startled to realize it was over. Had that really been it? But what happened? What were the ramifications of it all? There is a lot going on in this book, and I don’t think the author does it all credit. Edie’s mother is built as the center of Edie’s world, but we see the two together very infrequently, and aren’t given the chance to watch that expand. Edie’s outcast acquaintance from the start of the book, Imogen, is brought up–cast aside–brought back in, and all for…what? I’m not sure what her function in the book is at all. The same goes for Precious (yes, that is her name) and the rest of the bullies. They exist to fill a function in the school, but serve no higher purpose–other than a throw-away line at the end of the novel, albeit well-deserved. The only character who feels established outside of Edie is Jermaine, and as he’s the main male protagonist, that would be hoped for. But even he we only see at just beneath face value.

Where this is felt most keenly is in the vast emptiness that is Edie’s father. This is a story of domestic abuse severe enough to have them move across an ocean to avoid him. When he makes his appearance in the story, he plays the part of an abuser nicely–for the three minutes we see him. We don’t know what spurred the abuse, we don’t know the specifics at all, we know nothing about him or his impetus for all this. Yes, it’s a YA novel, but that doesn’t mean that you can gloss over all of the details of the story. It’s an unfortunate trend I’ve seen in YA work–the tendency to make everything over-simplistic and talk down to the readers as if they can’t figure out the plot.

Trust me, fellow authors. Your readers are almost absolutely smarter than you think.

Overall, I feel like this is a really good first draft, and should be taken back in and fleshed out. As this is Mary Jennifer Payne’s first YA novel, I think that’s fair. I’d look forward to seeing what she does in the future, once she has a bit more experience in this particular medium under her belt. I think her background in graphic novels is interfering with her writing.

Rating: *** – Worth a Look

This book will be available publicly on January 24th, 2015.

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