I’m steaming through the young adult books of late, and my latest read is Since You’ve Been Gone, the first YA novel Mary Jennifer Payne has written (although she has written other YA stuff).
I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It involves teenager Edie Fraser and her mother Sydney, who have just moved to England because of a mysterious he. Their lives are constantly spent on the move, scared of being followed or found by him.
In England, Edie needs to adjust to a whole new life at a school with some pretty terrible classmates, but she has bigger problems than bullying – her mother never comes home from her night time cleaning job and Edie has the feeling that something terrible has happened to her. She forms an unlikely duo with
Refreshingly, while this story is written in first person, it doesn’t feel like the story is all “me, me, me,” which I’ve found in a lot of YA novels written in first person. On top of that, Edie comes across as very “real” (I know, it’s a cliche, but it’s true). She notices boys but doesn’t have them constantly on the brain, she is inconsistent (teenager to a tee) and she has trouble in school.
My biggest issue with this book is that it’s not really long enough. We dip into the lives of all these different, interesting characters: Jermaine’s troubled past and his sick mother, Precious’ abusive mother, Savitri and her strict Muslim household, Imogen being such a lonely girl…and even Edie’s family herself. There’s some dialogue which clears up the situation but the climax is sudden and it doesn’t feel impactful enough, considering all that Edie has been through. The length of the book also means that there are plenty of threads that are picked up and then dropped – for example, Edie accepting a business card from a couple who help her out. Payne even goes so far as to mention the writing on the card, but the couple are never mentioned again, which is disappointing.
Another small problem only really struck me when Jermaine, who is black, is abused on a London bus. Edie notes to herself that she’s lucky that back in Canada there’s no race-related violence or abuse, which doesn’t sit well with me. Canada, like pretty much every other country, does have its own race issues to sort out, and it seems a little holier-than-thou to look to Canada as a bastion of equality.
Apart from those minor gripes, I really loved this book. It was a realistic portrayal of a teenage girl that finds herself in a tricky situation, and touches on some very serious topics, such as emotional and physical abuse, bullying and racism, that teenagers might deal with.