As far as YA novels go, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson is pretty perfect.
It has everything you could ever require from a summer read: a slightly farfetched but exciting and fast-paced plot, a sweet and swoonworthy love interest, a unique and funny cast of secondary characters (shoutout to my fave, Emily’s younger brother, Beckett), and an endearing heroine whose narrative voice is honest and witty and passionate. Oh, and it also has tons of references to the Beatles…so what more could you ask for?
Since You’ve Been Gone follows the summer of Emily, after her best friend Sloane and her parents have disappeared without explanation. Sloane leaves Emily a list of 13 tasks to complete over the summer, and throughout this process, Emily becomes friends with new characters, Frank, Collins and Dawn, and learns a great deal about herself and her confidence. What really surprised me is that the novel is much less about the friendship between Sloane and Emily, and is much more about watching Emily grow up, in a way, and challenge herself to become a stronger person. Other readers have commented on Emily’s journey throughout the novel, and I have to say, it was one of the aspects that I found the most refreshing because Emily is never annoying or juvenile, like a lot of YA heroines are, and is instead totally relatable and realistic. She is adorable, but also deeply flawed and confused, like a lot of 17 year olds are, and it is a wonderful thing to witness her learn some valuable life lessons and come out the other side this remarkable young woman. I could easily see myself becoming friends with Emily, and I felt that I could relate to her sense of feeling lost and having to discover and define herself.
What I liked most about Since You’ve Been Gone, though, is how mature it was, not only in how it tackled those important life lessons I mentioned, but also in how it treated its characters.
Firstly, the characters have to face and understand consequences at many points in the novel, and this was something I really appreciated. All too often, something insanely dramatic will happen in a YA novel, and the characters will still somehow emerge unscathed. I’m thinking of examples like 99 Days by Katie Cotugno and Paper Princess by Erin Watt where these teenage characters can act horribly and treat each other basically like crap, and yet, maybe because they’re “young”, they aren’t at all held responsible. That doesn’t happen in Since You’ve Been Gone and I was relieved about that. Emily makes some questionable decisions over the course of the story, and so does her best friend Sloane, and they are both made accountable and forced to deal with the repercussions of their actions and how they affect others and make them feel. These are flawed and human characters, but they are also not living in a magical world where everything is bright and shiny in the end. Case and point is the status of Emily’s relationships with Dawn and Collins by the end of the novel…there is much that the characters must own up to, and I think Since You’ve Been Gone presents an appropriate model to teenage audiences of what can happen when certain mistakes are made and other people are hurt in the process.
The characters in Since You’ve Been Gone were also wonderfully layered and interesting. There was not a single stereotype in the bunch, and I also felt like I got to know the characters so well, even in so short a time, by getting a glimpse into their family lives and the affect on each of these teenagers that having slightly distracted parents had on them. What was most refreshing for me, however, were the characterizations of Emily and Frank. In most, if not all, the YA novels I’ve read, the guy is the jock and the girl is the brain – this seems to just be an age old plotline that has been recycled far too many times over the years. What I loved about Since You’ve Been Gone is that Emily is the cross country runner with an athletic personality and stamina, and Frank, the main love interest, is an incredibly studious character who is student body president and spends his summers in academic enrichment programs rather than at football or hockey camp. Maybe this isn’t something that most other readers would find significant, but I was immediately impressed by Matson’s decision to take a less traditional and cliché approach to her YA romance, and I also appreciated that there was no instalove whatsoever, and Emily and Frank are great friends before they ever have any romantic feelings for each other. Add to that the laugh out loud moments when a character, like Beckett or Emily’s well-meaning but often bumbling dad, said something particularly hilarious, and you truly have a recipe for a standout YA novel.
There is simply A LOT to love about Since You’ve Been Gone, and I thoroughly enjoyed it and am so glad I picked it up, particularly just as the summer is ramping up. I would highly recommend it as the perfect beach read in every way!
❥❥❥❥❥ (out of 5)
My Favourite Passages:
“My hair was brown, pin-straight, and long, hitting halfway down my back, but anytime I’d talked about cutting it, Sloane had protested. ‘You have such princess hair,’ she’d said. ‘Anyone can have short hair.’”
“The day after my pizza ride-along, I’d stopped by Captain Pizza to say hi, making sure to glower at Bryan as I did so. I figured he deserved it – not only for what he’d done to Dawn, but also because he’d been wearing mirrored sunglasses indoors.”
“‘Do you not like the Beatles?’ Frank asked, sounding shocked, as we finished our cool-down and started walking back toward my house. ‘Do you also not like sunshine and laughter and puppies?’”
“She was my heart, she was half of me, and nothing, certainly not a few measly hundred miles, was ever going to change that.”
Some Beatles Songs to Listen to While Reading Since You’ve Been Gone:
- Here Comes The Sun
- I Want To Hold Your Hand
- Can’t Buy Me Love
- Eight Days A Week
- She Loves You
- We Can Work It Out
- All You Need Is Love
Girl with a Green Heart