Review: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Title Since You’ve Been Gone
Author Morgan Matson
Published May 6th, 2014 by Simon & Schuster
Pages 448
Intended Target Audience Young Adult
Genre & Keywords Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Romance
Part of a Series? No
Source & Format Received an Advanced Reader Copy from the author for review (Thanks, Morgan!), Paperback
Find It On GoodreadsAmazon.comChapters

It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made like 100% more interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just…disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list. On it, thirteen Sloane-inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected) to check things off Sloane’s list. Who knows what she’ll find.

Apple picking at night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a stranger? Um…

Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane’s list. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go skinny-dipping? Wait…what?

“I swallowed hard as I thought about all these plans, the whole direction I’d planned for my summer to go, just vanishing. And I realized that if Sloane were here, suddenly having my parents otherwise occupied and not paying attention to things like my curfew would have meant we could have had the most epic summer ever. I could practically see that summer, the one I wanted, the one I should have been living, shimmering in front of me like a mirage before it faded and disappeared.”

Best friends are forever. At least, that’s what Emily Hughes thought about her friendship with the confident and enigmatic Sloane Williams. For two years the girls have shared everything, becoming an inseparable unit and keeping in constant contact as they discussed everything from disastrous haircuts to outlandish conspiracy theories. So, when Sloane suddenly disappears one day without a word, Emily can’t quite believe it and tries to convince herself that there must be some sort of explanation. It’s a misunderstanding. A nightmare. Anything but the truth: That Sloane is gone for good. That’s when Emily discovers it: The list. Like the ones she had created for Emily so often in the past, Sloane left Emily a list of thirteen seemingly random tasks to complete. Some simple (‘Sleep under the stars’), some strange (‘Hug a Jamie’), and some challenging (‘Go skinny-dipping’), this list represents the only remaining connection Emily has to her lost friend. Unsure of where Sloane has gone and if (or when) she’ll return, Emily becomes fixated on the list of tasks Sloane left behind, convinced that hidden somewhere between the lines lies the secret to finding the truth about her best friend’s sudden and mysterious disappearance and a means of reconnecting with her. Along the way, however, Emily will eventually discover something vastly more important: The truth about herself.

“I could feel my heart beating hard as I realized that this list – that doing these terrifying things – might be the way I would find her again. I wasn’t sure how, exactly, that was going to happen, but for the first time I’d called her number and just gotten voice mail, it was like I knew what to do with myself. Sloane had left me a map, and maybe – hopefully – it would lead me to her.”

Have you ever loved a novel so much that no words, no explanation, no review could do it justice? You want to recommend it to everyone you know, to shout its praises from the highest rooftop and somehow, however daunting the task, perfectly encapsulate all it meant to you. Instead, you find yourself at a loss for words, dwelling on how to express all the passion and excitement it inspired in you. This was precisely the problem I faced when I sat down and began to write my review of Since You’ve Been Gone. It’s no secret that I’m an ardent fan of Morgan Matson’s work. I’ve said (approximately one hundred times before) that Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour is one of my favourite books of all time and is one I’ve re-read an innumerable number of times. There’s something so universal, so special, so magical, about the stories that Matson chooses to tell and this is no more true than in the case of her latest 2014 release. Now, I’m not one for conspiracy theories. In fact, I’d like to believe that the majority of the time I’m a rational, logical human being. There are no alien abductions, bermuda triangles or Bigfoots for this girl. Oh no. But if I were to start accessorizing with tin foil hats and swearing that “the truth is out there”, I would begin with this: Morgan Matson is trying to spoil me for all other contemporary authors. Her writing is almost too good. I suspect there might be some sort of sorcery involved. In all seriousness, though, Since You’ve Been Gone was my most highly-anticipated release of 2014 and this novel managed to surpass each and every expectation I had prior to beginning it. Sweet, thoughtful, poignant and a whole lot of fun, Since You’ve Been Gone is the best book I’ve read thus far in 2014 and I have no doubt will remain a favourite for many years to come. If you plan to read only one young adult novel this year, let it be this one.

“I thought about telling him how it sometimes felt like I was only half there, without Sloane to talk to about what I was experiencing. How it felt like someone had chopped off my arm, and then for good measure taken my ID and sense of direction. How it was like I had no idea who I was, or where I was going, coupled with the fact that there was a piece of me missing that never seemed to stop hurting, never letting me forget, always reminding me I wasn’t whole.”

Not since Cath in Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Kippy in Kathleen Hale’s No One Else Can Have You have I felt such a strong kinship with a protagonist and, of these three characters, Emily Hughes is the one who I most closely identified with. While it seems narcissistic to love a book in part because of how closely one is able to relate to the protagonist, the importance of seeing one’s stories and experiences reflected back in the literature they read cannot be understated. In truth, Emily’s journey was a very much a personal one for me because I was, and at certain moments still am, Emily. I’ve allowed anxiety and insecurity to dictate choices in my life and dissuade me from doing something I otherwise might be interested in. I’ve chosen to willingly fade into the background in order to let others take centre stage. In fact, I often prefer it. I’ve doubted my own worth and questioned my value in relation to others, and what, if anything, I bring to the relationships I’ve formed over the years. These and other issues are all ones that Emily struggles with throughout the course of this novel. In the wake of Sloane’s absence, Emily is forced to examine who she is as an individual as opposed to one half of a pair. Formerly known only as ‘Sloane’s friend’, Emily, however unintentionally, had been relegated to the background, becoming a supporting player in her own life as she subsumed Sloane’s passions and interests often to the detriment of her own. Paradoxically, Emily’s friendship with Sloane is both a blessing and a curse, empowering Emily to become more vibrant and outspoken while also forcing her to become increasingly reliant of Sloane in order to do so. The two have become so inextricably linked that it eventually becomes difficult for Emily to discern where Sloane ends and she begins. Without Sloane, Emily is lost, alone, and uncertain. What initially begins as an attempt to locate her best friend quickly transforms into something else entirely as Emily embarks on a quest not to find Sloane, but to find herself. What follows is a journey that is as touching as it is universal and as beautiful as it is brave. Watching Sloane’s voyage of self-discovery, including her triumphs both large and small and supported by her friends both new and old, perfectly encapsulates the uncertainty of a period in our lives when we are only beginning to grasp our true potential and understand who we will one day become.

“Do you not like The Beatles?” Frank asked, sounding scandalized, as we finished our cool-down and started walking back toward my house. “Do you also not like sunshine and laughter and puppies?”

As is the case with all of Matson’s work, the secondary characters are as vibrant and as well rendered as the primary ones. From the Hughes family’s transient housecat, Godot, to Frank’s best friend and wannabe lothario, Matt Collins, each and every character plays an important role within the novel and shines in their own right. In fact, I would happily read an entire novel dedicated to Matt and Dawn’s stories, both of whom I found extremely compelling. Family also plays an important role in Since You’ve Been Gone as Matson examines, however indirectly, the role between parent and child and how this affects them developmentally, using Emily, Sloane’s and Frank’s familial experiences as examples of this. Emily’s parents are a playwriting team who have been attempting to recreate the magic and triumph of their most successful creation, Bug Juice. When the novel begins the two are preparing to embark on a new venture, completely immersed in the idea for their newest play, Tesla and Edison. Increasingly withdrawn and unintentionally neglectful as they become absorbed in their newest project, they are oblivious to Emily’s sadness over Sloane’s disappearance. Beckett, Emily’s younger brother, is similarly effected. Having little memory of their parents’ previously nomadic and unpredictable lifestyle prior to receiving tenured positions at Stanwich College, Beckett is unused to their unstable and unreliable habits. This, coupled with Sloane’s sudden disappearance, forces Emily and Beckett to become closer, coming to rely on and confide in one another for want of any other support system. While I don’t ordinarily enjoy the appearance of young children or siblings in the novels I read, Beckett is a delight, an adventurous daredevil who is a constant whirligig of unspent energy and motion. Best of all, however, is undoubtedly Frank Porter, National Merit Scholar, class president, and all-around over-achiever. Oh, Frank. I’m beginning to think I’ll need to create a support group for those of us who have become hopelessly, irrevocably smitten with Morgan Matson’s irresistible love interests. First Roger, and now Frank – Where are these sort of men in real life, I ask you? Smart, stable, dependable, thoughtful and kind, Frank Porter is the very definition of a good guy, the sort of person anyone would be lucky to date.

“You just seemed so…diminished, he said after a moment. “Like you were hoping nobody would see you.”
I kept my eyes on his, not letting myself look away. “And now?”
He looked right back at me as he gave me a half smile. “You’re the brightest thing in the room,” he said. He lifted his hand from my waist, and slowly, carefully, brushed a stray lock of hair from my forehead. “You shine.”

Since You’ve Been Gone is written in a non-linear style, with Emily’s reminiscences about her time with Sloane in the past interspersed with her experiences in the present. This allows the author to give a more complete, complex examination of Emily and Sloane both as individuals as well as permitting the reader to experience the dynamic between these two best friends firsthand. By comparing and contrasting these moments in Emily’s life, one is able to get a better grasp of Emily’s vast maturation over the course of the novel. Much like Matson’s wonderfully creative debut novel, Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, which featured forms of mixed media such as quotes, lists, photographs, drawings, receipts, etc, Since You’ve Been Gone also features a fun, creative premise and includes the author’s now beloved, recognizable playlists that perfectly set the tone for the novel and its characters. These and other infinitesimal, seemingly inconsequential details from the ever-changing slogans of the local pizza parlour (Captain Pizza – We do PRIVATE parties!) to Frank and Matt’s competition to speak only in Beatles’ song titles, demonstrate the author’s unparalleled, impeccable attention to even the most minute detail. In doing so, Matson does not merely create a series of two dimensional backdrops against which the action takes place. Rather, the author creates an experience, an entire world, that feels as real and as navigable as one’s own neighborhood. From the frozen delights of Paradise Ice Cream to the picturesque beach onto which Frank’s property backs, Since You’ve Been Gone brings to life a world from which one will never want to leave.

“Now that I was in her house, I felt a sudden, surprise rush of missing Sloane intensely.
But I’d been missing her all along. Hadn’t I?
As I shook my glass, just to hear the ice cubes clink, I realized that I hadn’t, not recently. That her list had become less about Sloane, and more about me. And Frank and Dawn and Collins, too. I wasn’t sure what that meant. I wasn’t sure what I wanted it to mean.”

Morgan Matson has done it again. With her trademark creativity, depth, sensitivity and wit, Matson has once again demonstrated why she is, and will always remain, one of my favourite authors of all time. Deceptively simple and undeniably beautiful, Since You’ve Been Gone is a touching reflection on the relationships that shape our lives and the universal struggle to understand ourselves and find where we belong. In a well-ordered universe, I could press Since You’ve Been Gone into the hands of everyone I met and convince them to read it immediately. As it stands now, I can only hope that I have somehow managed to convey, at least in some small part, how much this novel meant to me. Let’s hear it for the girls!

Please Note: All quotations included in this review have been taken from an advanced reader copy and therefore might be subject to change.

Still not sure this is the right book for you? Why not listen to what some other bloggers had to say about it?

● Jamie @ The Perpetual Page-Turner wrote “My heart wants to seize up with happiness over Since You’ve Been Gone. It was a most anticipated book for 2014 and it did NOT disappoint.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Emilie @ Emilie’s Book World wrote “As you may have guessed by now, I ADORED Morgan Matson’s Since You’ve Been Gone. I flew through the pages, never wanting the story to end so I wouldn’t have to say goodbye to these characters.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

● Magan @ Rather Be Reading wrote Since You’ve Been Gone was no different than her other stellar books, Second Chance Summer and Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, providing exactly the escape from reality I was so wanting.” (Read the rest of the review Here!)

4 Responses

  1. Since You’ve Been Gone has been on my radar for a while now, partially because of the cover and recently someone on Twitter told me I had to read it, so it went up on my TBR list a couple of notches. I’m really happy that you loved it and it sounds like a really great book, exploring relationships and identity. I’ve been a fan of Matson, ever since Second Chance Summer and reading the quotes that you picked from Since You’ve Been Gone, I’m glad that it doesn’t disappoint! I’m so, so excited to read this book!
    alice-jane recently posted…Review// Fire & Blood by Victoria ScottMy Profile

  2. Wow. You make it so that I don’t even have to write a review for this book anymore, considering you stole the words right out of my fingertips. I think I’ll just RT your Twitter links a few times a call it a day. 😉 I agree with you on EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING!

    I think this is my favorite part of your review: “…the author creates an experience, an entire world, that feels as real and as navigable as one’s own neighborhood.” So very true. Everyone needs to read this book today and be part of that perfectly wonderful neighborhood. We can have a block party as we sing our praises!!
    Jenna recently posted…BEA 2014: The Plan (Ha! Yeah Right…)My Profile

  3. EVERYONE I KNOW IS LOVING THIS AND GAH. I haven’t read anything by Matson, but it seems like she can do no wrong in most of my friends’ books (except maybe with Broken Hearts, Fences, and Other Things to Mend, which I’ve heard slightly mixed things about). I’m really into books that touch on friendship lately (since 17 First Kisses was so amazing) so I really, really need to get to this soon.
    Blythe Harris recently posted…Review: 17 First Kisses by Rachael AllenMy Profile

  4. I love, love, love your review of Since You’ve Been Gone! It’s gorgeously written. You so carefully touch on all the aspects that I fell in love with in this novel, and perfectly worded how you felt about them. Wonderful job, and I’m so glad you fell in love with it!
    Alexa S. recently posted…Outings + Authors + Broadway, Oh My!My Profile

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Hi! I’m Jen! I’m a thirty-something introvert who loves nothing more than the cozy comfort of home and snuggling my two rescue cats, Pepper and Pancakes. I also enjoy running, jigsaw puzzles, baking and everything Disney. Few things bring me more joy than helping a reader find the right book for them!