Since You’ve Been Gone – Morgan Matison

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No, not Kelly Clarkson, but a story of a girl and her missing best friend, Sloan.  Well, actually the missing family of her best friend when all three disappeared.  Emily’s own family are distracted playwrights for the summer so the convenience of their obliviousness is a bit obvious while Emily goes about the tasks of Sloane’s “to do” list.

The list doesn’t scream “live your life”, but that’s the point: things Emily has been too scared to do before.  Some items she doesn’t know what they mean – meeting Mona.  Who is Mona? – and other’s she understands – riding horses.  Emily is terrified of horses.

As summer progresses, Emily tries to understand the list hoping that if she completes it, she will learn answers to Sloane’s disappearance.  Along the way, she makes new friends and gets a little braver – with the help of Frank, the cute popular boy who helps Emily check off the tasks on Sloan’s list.  In trade, Emily helps Frank with his running.  The dialog between these two is easy and honest on their daily jogs as is the ease of their building friendship. The new group of friends Emily finds are sort of the best part.

Soon Emily accomplishes half of her list and there is still no explanation to where Sloan has disappeared.  The only thing I didn’t care for was Emily’s guilt for not doing something [illegal!] Sloan wanted her to do years ago – while the list and main point of the novel seems like a fun, happy, scavenger hunt type of game…. this memory makes Sloan’s “list” seem more peer-pressure and made me pause.  But it picks up again with true friendship, loyalty, and explanations.

In the end, we find answers to where Sloan has gone and learn that a simple “to do list” was much more to a summer than entertainment.  For Emily it was finding her courage and true self –  much more important than a simple order of objectives.   I think Sloan’s a little selfish and a bit of a demanding friend (which you’ll learn in flashbacks), but Emily grows a backbone in the end and finds true friends who help her accomplish the list.  And she and Sloan reconnect, but I’m glad Emily found some self-esteem along the way.

Friendship wins in the end.  “She was my heart.  She was half of me.” … but should this girl really be half of Emily?  It’s a cute plot, but friendship shouldn’t be 80% one sided all of the time.  Emily finds better friends throughout the story in my opinion.  I don’t romanticize bossy, peer-pressure, control freaks.

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