Since You’ve Been Gone. Mary Jennifer Payne. 2015. Dundurn. 224 pages. [Source: NetGalley].
It’s not often that a book leaves me unsettled, but more and more I’m finding that YA books leave me just that. Since You’ve Been Gone follows 15-year-old Edie Fraser as she adjusts to life in England after abruptly fleeing her home in Canada with her mother. Mere days after settling into a new home and school, Edie comes home to find that her mother has failed to keep their communication pact and is missing. Edie is left to further adjust to life in a strange new city by herself but also find out what’s become of her mother. In her attempts to do so, she runs afoul of administrators in her school and the people she’s come to consider her new friends.
What I find unsettling about the book isn’t so much its basic plot — I’m sure most teens are acutely aware of some type of hardship or difficult family situations — but rather the way it unfolds for Edie. She plods along trying to get more information, but along the way she keeps being slapped in the face with harsh realities about life and how people treat one another. There’s a lesson to be taken away from it, and it’s offered just beneath the surface.
Payne’s style is alternately subtle and in-your-face, but it’s honest about reality. Edie and her mother Sydney are running from her abusive father, who seems to find them every time they get settled away from him. Reading this from an adult’s perspective allowed me to deduce what Edie and her mother were running from and even assume what happened to Sydney. However, I can easily see how a teen reading this could be less clear about the possibilities and see things from Edie’s own youthfully naive perspective. Even more, the situations that Edie puts herself in and how she responds to them are developmentally on-point (which was woefully frustrating at times, but nonetheless appreciated).
Overall, Payne’s story is realistic, however unfortunate it may be. She creates a cast of characters that cling to the reader, getting one invested in a happy ending. This is a quick yet evenly-paced read. I definitely recommend this to young and older alike.