Title: Since You've Been Gone
Author: Morgan Matson
Main Plot: Emily and Sloane are best friends and plan to have an epic summer, complete with pizza crawls and summer boys. But it's been two weeks since Emily's seen or heard from Sloane, and just as she begins to worry, a letter arrives for her. It's a list from Sloane of 13 things that Emily would never do, but maybe if she completes the list, Sloane will be on the other side? At the very least, Emily knows she's got to try.
Main Characters: Emily, Sloane, and others.
In a well ordered universe, I'd be able to create a graphic to signify the 4.75 stars that I'd like to give this book. But alas, I haven't a clue how to create 3/4 of a coffee stain and make it discernable as such. Ah, well. In a well ordered universe, we are not.
In a well ordered universe, I'd be able to wipe my memory of novels that I wish to reread so that I could discover them for the first time all over again, but again, not possible.
What is possible is me, telling you, all the reasons I loved this damn book.
We're dumped into this novel well after Sloane, Emily's best friend, has left town without a warning. And despite my initial misgivings about this, it turned out to be a great decision. When I noticed that we, as readers, weren't going to actually meet Sloane firsthand, I was nervous. How am I suppose to care about this girl I've never "met"? Moreover, how am I suppose to get a true sense of their friendship and what Emily has lost with Sloane leaving if I never get to really see them together? And boy was I wrong. Through the very well-placed and never frustrating use of flashbacks, Morgan Matson perfectly depicts to the reader just what Sloane meant to Emily and the kind of friendship they had. In fact, after the first flashback, recounting the day that Emily first met Sloane, I had decided: I love Sloane. Sloane is the quirky, funny, outgoing friend that will ask you to help her break into her house and show you the disaster that is her hair before she even asks you what your name is. She's the girl who finds cute, innovative ways to communicate with you when she realizes she never got your number either. And in so many ways, she's the perfect best friend for someone like Emily. Which brings me to another reason beginning the book without Sloane was a great idea - I got to see Emily. Like really see her. Emily's personality is that of a person who will take a backseat to a "louder" personality like Sloane, not because she's intimidated but rather because it allows her to stay in her comfort zone and not really be seen. But without Sloane there, the reader gets to know Emily, the real Emily from the very beginning. It was a bold and genius choice.
The only 'not-genius' choice in this novel was the ending. And it's the reason I subtracted 0.25 from the rating. As a disclaimer, this could totally be my fault because I try to predict the endings of things. However, the ending of Since You've Been Gone left me wanting a little bit more. You know how every book, every story arch, every conflict has a reason or a motive? Without spoiling anything, the "reason" for things in this novel didn't really add up as seamlessly as I would've liked. Through the novel, Emily tells us what her friendship with Sloane was like and in contrast, we get to see Emily's development as a character in the present (which was brilliant by the way), and so we draw conclusions, reasons why. Yet instead of touching on what I thought was the obvious reasons why, the resolution of the novel kind of glosses over it and as a result the ending fell a bit flat for me. The plot up until that point was so great and, although it didn't change my opinion of the book as a whole, it made me feel like a bit more could have been done with it, like the plot could have driven home a bigger message.
While the plot is a big reason this book is so good (I mean a to-do list from a best friend like Sloane is pretty much a license for an adventure), I don't doubt that Matson's writing and characterization play a huge role in why I liked this book so much. Throughout the story, Matson introduces us to a host of incredibly interesting characters. And better yet, she creates real, tenable bonds between her characters, as opposed to flimsy connections. I really loved that this story doesn't jump into finding a character for Emily to fall in love with. Instead Matson develops a clear friendship between Emily and male characters first, allowing me to become invested in the friendships at the outset. I also love the little details she adds to flush out her characters' personalities. Sloane's flair for the dramatic that isn't annoying but only adds to her charm. Beckett's (Emily's brother's) proclivity for scaling doorways. Emily's parents' weird magnetism to the sanctuary that is their dining room. As the story progresses and Emily meets other people, you begin to realize that Matson just has a way of creating characters that live on the page and pop out at you as you read about them. In fact, Matson's characters remind me quite a lot of Rainbow Rowell's because of how well-developed they are.
Matson's writing style adds a lot to the novel as well. Most writers tend to write in a linear fashion. "This happened, and so-so-so reacted in this way, and so now we're here." And while there's nothing wrong with linear writing, Matson's use of structure is refreshing. In Since You've Been Gone, Matson jumps forward every now and then, giving you a bit of the story that will make you wonder how we ended up here and then backtracking to catch you up to speed before the story progresses. For instance, she'll begin a chapter telling you that Emily is holding on for dear life in the passenger seat of a car, before she tells you how Emily got there or who's car she's in or why. But then she'll pull it back to explain everything before continuing on. This kind of writing has the feeling of a "mini-flashback" and makes the reader feel like she's right there with Emily experiencing everything as Emily does. It made this book nearly impossible to put down.
When I say "nearly impossible", I really mean just that. I read this book in less than 24 hours. I needed to see if Emily was going to do all the things or chicken out. I was glad for her every time she could cross something off and I gasped aloud when the unexpected or exciting things happened. To me, that's really what makes Since You've Been Gone a really great summer read and a really great novel in general. Not only does it make me want to sing out loud, but I'm right there with Emily. I'm on this adventure, I'm ticking things off the list, I'm wondering if my best friend will be at the end of it all. Forget that I don't even have a best friend named Sloane who skipped town unexpectedly. I'm there anyways.