The Pre-Sloane Emily didn’t go to parties, she barely talked to guys, she didn’t do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—the one who yanks you out of your shell.But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just… disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list. On it, thirteen Sloane-selected-definitely-bizarre-tasks that Emily would never try… unless they could lead back to her best friend.
Apple Picking at Night? Ok, easy enough.
Dance until Dawn? Sure. Why not?
Kiss a Stranger? Wait… what?
Getting through Sloane’s list would mean a lot of firsts. But Emily has this whole unexpected summer ahead of her, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected) to check things off. Who knows what she’ll find?
Go Skinny Dipping? Um…
Tell Me More: Few things call to me the way a Morgan Matson novel can, and Since You’ve Been Gone is no exception. Where Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour was romantic, and Second Chance Summer was poignant, Matson’s third book is brave, much like its protagonist.
Emily is a character that I could relate to as soon as she was introduced. Her shyness and timid nature is familiar to me, and it wasn’t hard to imagine how she felt when Sloane disappeared. Sloane isn’t just a best friend–she also represents the things that Emily wishes she could be. She draws Emily out of her safe corner and takes her on adventures, giving her something to hold on to. Their friendship is so much of Emily’s own developing identity that Sloane’s sudden disappearance stuns and confuses her. The list that she receives becomes her sole link to her friend, and the catalyst for her growth into her own person.
Being shy is challenging, not only because interacting with others is hard, but because when you have someone like Sloane in your life, it’s easy to let choices slide to that friend. You’re along for the ride and you’re safe, because you know that your friend will never lead you astray. Emily believes that even without Sloane’s presence, the list will be enough to bring her back. And so she trusts in her friend through petrifying tasks like hugging a Jamie (relatively easy) to going skinny-dipping (crazy hard), because she believes that Sloane has a reason for this, like she has for everything else they’ve done together. Matson doesn’t throw Emily into change–she paves the way, as Sloane does, for Emily to find her own way around life.
Flashbacks illustrate Emily’s tendency to draw into herself and Sloane’s charismatic personality, and Matson’s writing style is similarly nuanced. The list is expanded upon in each flashback, and while Emily isn’t as quick to realize it, the reader comes to see just how much Sloane believes in Emily. I would go as far as to say that Sloane believes in Emily more than she does in herself, and that she sees Emily as the kind of person she can never be. And while Sloane is the louder presence in Emily’s memories, the list proves just how deeply Emily has influenced and inspired Sloane. I loved that even as Frank and other supporting characters help Emily through each task, they show her how she is capable and strong and everything she thought only Sloane could be.
The Final Say: Morgan Matson captures the doubts and thrills of adolescence, letting them breathe through the story of two girls who see the best of themselves in each other. Since You’ve Been Gone is a story about true friendship and all the myriad ways that it teaches us to believe in ourselves as much as we believe in our friends.
Morgan Matson received her MFA in Writing for Children from the New School. She was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start author for her first book, Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour, which was also recognized as an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults. Her second book, Second Chance Summer, won the California State Book Award. She lives in Los Angeles.