Monday, June 23, 2014

Triple Review: Since You've Been Gone - Morgan Matson

Since You've Been Gone
Morgan Matson
Series: N/A
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Perfect Summer Read
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I picked up Since You've Been Gone at BookExpo America this year and it's been towards the top of my to-read list. Now that I've gotten to reading it, I can say that I definitely was not disappointed.

The plot of the book centers around Emily Hughes and the summer before her senior year of high school. She was supposed to have the time of her life with her best friend Sloane but all of a sudden Sloane has disappeared, but has mailed Emily a list of 13 things to do, all outside her comfort zone. Emily decides that if she sets out to complete all the tasks on the list, she might figure out where Sloane is.

One of my favorite aspects of this book was the character development. As I read the book, it became clear that Emily had this sort of unhealthy view of Sloane, that she she was trying to make her out to be this perfect savior type. She idealized Sloane in her head and made her out to be this perfect person who always knew exactly what to say and how to say it and who to talk to and how to dress and it made me wonder if Sloane had actually been more on the manipulative side all along, and whether or not this was a toxic friendship. And in the beginning, when she has just freshly felt the wound of finding her missing, Emily keep talking about how situations would be different if Sloane were there, about how she doesn't know what to say and how if she was there Sloane would carry on the conversation and Emily could open up around her and add in some comments here and there and be more in her comfort zone. This made me irritated by Emily, but what really got me was one scene where Frank Porter made a comment and Emily thought "If Sloane had been next to me, I would have said So to speak or That's for sure or some other punny remark, since there were actual ropes here and Frank had pretty much opened the door for a joke like that. But she wasn't, so I just looked away..." What?! Emily, what? The other times, I get that she felt insecure without her security blanket but this time she literally had the comment in her head and didn't make it. What????? I really didn't understand Emily on that one. So in the beginning we see her as this totally dependent person and it's kindof strange.

And then we see it fall away, which is where the character development comes in.

It starts with Frank Porter and their continued interactions, each time still slightly awkward. And then somewhere along the line they become running buddies and then even friends and then of course we can see where that is leading but clearly Morgan Matson doesn't believe in insta-love and praise her for that. Their friendship is portrayed so well, her at first describing him as his perfect straight-A class President who she would never imagine ever spending time with, and then slowly chiseling away at his exterior to discover his awesome music taste (awesome to me, not so much to Emily, who likes songs about trucks) and family problems and sense of humor. Emily begins to open up, to really find herself and become a person without Sloane attached.

As the story goes on, Emily also ends up befriending Collins, Frank's friend, and Dawn, the girl who works at the pizza place next door to where Emily works. I really enjoyed reading about how, as chapter by chapter she tries to spend her summer completing items on the list, she ends up surrounded by these dynamic and flawed individuals who all give a lot to the story in their own ways.

From having Frank and Collins talk in Beatles song titles to mixing in their running playlists in the chapters, Morgan Matson does such a good job of focusing on developing the characters and making them seem very real and dear.

Each chapter in the book is Emily crossing another things off the list and the more things she does, the more she changes. One of the big things I noticed is that the more she does these things that Sloane wants her to do, the less she needs Sloane there to guide her through her summer and her life. Each task has some degree of difficulty for Emily, but she gets through a lot of them with her new friends, which makes for a fairly interesting summer tale.

The book is also intertwined with flashbacks, not in a weird figure-out-the-plot sort of way, but usually when Emily references something with a story behind it. These flashbacks help the reader understand Sloane and who she really is and what her relationship with Emily was like. I thought they were nicely done and accompanied the story very effectively.

Overall, I loved reading about these characters and Morgan Matson has a very good narrative voice that made this book a pleasure to get through. I thought there could have been some changes made in the ending but I can't say anything without spoilers so I'm just going to leave it at that. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and thought it was a very cute read and perfectly captured the feeling of a summer book (although I think I'd still enjoy it any other time of year).

- Noor

Marlon's Since You've Been Gone Review
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: B+

Caution: I have very mixed feelings about this book. I'm am like the annoying clumps of flour in the cake, not totally dissolved into a decision. 

If you haven't read the blurb, this novel is about a girl named Emily, who's best friend Sloane mysteriously disappears, leaving her a list of things to do.

The novel has a defining characteristic, in that it comprehensively captures Emily's voice. From the moment the novel started, I felt like I knew Emily. She has so many mannerisms of speech (for instance, she's in the business of dropping highish-end grade words like "parse" in casual thoughts) and a distinct thought process (a love for lots of exposition in her head, and never letting any of this outside her head). Emily comes alive so well in the novel that she nearly becomes it, only fuelled by the first-person POV. I honestly started to believe Emily that Sloane was her saviour, that without her, it was like ripping a limb off and refusing to cauterise the wound. She seemed ready to lay at the threshold of Sloane's empty house and die. I felt that this psychological dependence was a bit much, but I could see the connection as bright as day and how it had developed because of Matson's narrative clarity.

At first, this is why I loved the novel. Then, this was why I hated the novel. Now, I realise this is why I both really love this book and hate it a little.

I'll show you why:

Because Emily's are the only eyes through which we see other characters, it isn't until a quarter of the way through the book until I realised that her best friend Sloane, was a lie. This isn't particularly stated, but it's hinted at in flashbacks: for example, Sloane brushing aside Emily's comment on the way to the Orchard. In the beginning, Emily idolizes Sloane to the point where she only ever imagines what Sloane would do in a situation, which always happened to be "the right thing" to do. She is ready to abandon her reckless brother at an indoor extreme sports park just to attempt to find this other girl. 

This is extremely disturbing but totally amazing. Why? This is so rarely done in YA. Friendships are rarely explored in Contemporary or YA works. Instead, there is a tendency to focus on the intricacies of love and/or lust centred relationships. Never have I seen a friendship put at the forefront of a book, and never have I seen a questionable friendship been put at the forefront of a book. Even more amazing is that the love relationship that is displayed in this book is not conventional, it's not instalove, it's barely even recognizable from a Hollywood portrayal: t's a developing friendship that blossoms into something else entirely. This is awesome. 

One thing is certain, this book is absolutely excellent for a specific demographic. Introverted, middle-class, anxious teenagers. Though I admit this is a large demographic, Matson doesn't seem to push beyond this and make the novel any more wholesome and powerful than it has to be. It is effectively the process of Emily, an introverted, anxious, embarrassed-because-of-her-shoe-size etc. teenager losing her safety-net best friend, Sloane, and having to take control of her life and become empowered.

And what I love is that this book is still enjoyable for people who don't fit into this demographic. There is a wealth of other appeal (if you can get past the fairly uneventful and dry first chapter): lots and lots of puns; hilarious dialogue, sometimes in song lyric; and best of all, beautifully flawed characters that help Emily in her development, including a new friend Dawn, the all-over-the-place Collins, and Frank, lovely lovely Frank, who is nothing like the perfect Frank she has imagined for the last three years.

In that same vein, though, Emily was the most boring part of the novel. This can be partially forgiven, because Emily is supposed to be the most boring part of the novel. Yet, though, the transition from the beginning to the end is wonderful, characters like Frank Porter and Matt Collins seemed more worthwhile and a lot less fragmentary and confused as Emily can be. I wanted more depth out of them instead of just a two layer coating of "I'm this way on the outside" and "I have parental problems on the inside". Granted they were well developed, just not well enough.

Also the end? WTF? I don't want to ruin it but the "big reveal" honestly could have been eased into the story better, or at least handled as a narrative device rather than an explosion.

My only other downside is again, Emily. 
Sometimes Emily's thought process is perfectly displayed: when she's having a conversation with Frank early on, she starts flipping out to herself: "I didn't know how to do this by myself and I didn't want to have to learn. Also, I didn't think I'd exchanged more than a few sentences with Frank Porter in three years, so I wasn't sure how we were pending this much time talking about the size of my feet." (Matson, 46)

And sometimes it can be confusing. Page 36 exemplifies the Emily's apparent love for long-winded, semirelated/unrelated exposition by leading off into a tangent about the different childhoods that Emily and her brother Beckett experienced, provoked by . . . well, nothing. . . . Matson transitioned from active voice to reflection by a joke on finding directions. This is damaging since the description in question would be perfectly appropriate in another context, such as a few pages later, when Emily leaves Beckett at IndoorExtreme. Beckett's comfort and security could be shown to stem from living in relative comfort and security. Instead, the reader trudges through an ostensibly random section of information. Emily's thoughts can confound the book in good ways (hiding the questionable relationship between her and Sloane) but also in bad ways, like this.


No short boys? Why? WHY? GIVE ME SHORT BOYS OR GIVE ME DEATH. I'm just kidding, this book actually did a fairly decent job with beauty, giving the reader an average-looking Frank as the love interest. I would have liked a bit more ethnic and gender variability, though. 

There are so many five star reviews on goodreads that I initially did a double take when finishing this novel. Was I just being cynical? In a bad mood? Not enough tea? But no. This book was great, not perfect, but great, as in, a wonderful Contemporary summer read. But no more, and no less.

- Marlon

Amrutha's Since You've Been Gone Review
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Word rating: Summery and Delightful 

When I first started this book, the first chapter or so seemed so dry that I was immediately disappointed. However, do not be discouraged by the slow start. Since You've Been Gone soon transforms into an adorable, breezy summer read. I read this book on one of the first days of summer late into the night, finishing it in one sitting, and when I was done with it, I found myself aching for days at the beach (it's funny because nowhere in the novel is a beach mentioned (also I hate the beach). But the summer atmosphere that the book presents is undeniable.

Since You've Been Gone revolves around Emily, our protagonist, who is presented with a list of 13 things to complete during the summer, given to her by her mysterious best friend Sloane, who disappeared without notice. The story immediately evolves into a story about friendship, laughter, and personal growth (all things that I especially, as a senior just starting the summer before her freshman year of college, needed to read about).

Matson really nails this concept of personal growth with Emily, slowly ridding her obsession with Sloane, whom she idolizes, and pushing her to think more of herself. Whether it be skinny dipping or anything else, Emily learns to be fearless, and how to let loose and have some fun. I think a huge moral here for me was that sometimes it is okay to mess up and take risks and deal with the consequences later, so long as you get an overall positive end result or experience. It was a story I really needed to read right now, so it hit pretty close to home.

What I really enjoyed about the story was that Emily was able to make new friends without replacing her old one, as happens so often in YA books about best friends. Collins, Dawn, and of course, Frank all play intense roles in having Emily finish the list, while also propelling her forward into character development. In the beginning, Emily was shy to do things and often knew what Sloane would do in a situation, but was confused as to what SHE should do. Slowly, via some awkward but adorable encounters with Frank, interacting with her ex, helping out her new friend Dawn, or joking around with Collins, Emily completed the list and was left feeling like a new and improved person, who knew what Emily would say, rather than Sloane.

Matson did a wonderful job on this book, and I can't wait to read other works of hers. She really put me in a summer mindset (it's hard to do) and left us with a really lovely story that I'd recommend to just about anyone.

- Amrutha

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1 comment:

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