Since You’ve Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne

In a YA book, the expectations for great literature are not very high. Teens tend to want a fast paced story with some action, a bit of conflict, a touch of romance, and a dose of angst thrown in for good measure. Mary Jennifer Payne has tossed all this into the mix in her novel, Since You’ve Been Gone, with a varying degree of success.

Edie and her mom are constantly on the run from an abusive father who has a tendency towards violence whenever conflicts arise, which is fairly often. The day he placed a hand on Edie was the day her mother packed their bags and left home, successfully eluding her husband for five years by constantly switching from one locale to the next. Although Toronto was their original home, this latest move finds the two in London, England, where Sydney Fraser spent her youth.

Edie is sick of the constant upheaval and now she’s in a new country with different customs. Her first day at school she meets (and rejects) the school nerd, is accosted by the school bully, and settles in with some potential friends. The teachers are not overly welcoming and she is reprimanded for being late. While striving to keep a low profile, she needs to find a solution to a major catastrophe in her life – the sudden, prolonged disappearance of her mom. After stealing the fundraising jar of money meant to help build a school for girls in Afghanistan, she is able to fund a weekend to search for her missing parent. Unfortunately, a fellow classmate, Jermaine, is the one accused of theft. Even though he knows that Edie is the culprit, he remains mum in exchange for the truth. Together the two set out on a manhunt to discover the whereabouts of Sydney Fraser.

As an American, I cannot attest to the accuracy of the various landmarks in London. Common names, such as Tim Horton’s (a popular coffee shop throughout Canada started by a famous hockey player), Starbucks, and Burger King are relatable to those of us living in North America. Other customs may be a little alien, such as double decker buses and the metro system. They add a little spice to the story. Also of interest are the racial dynamics facing a black teen born and raised in England. Jermaine seems to face some prejudice, with teachers dismissing his intelligence and punks threatening to knife him in full view of a crowd, but it doesn’t extend to the developing friendship/romance between the two protagonists and, in spite of his questionable treatment, Jermaine remains one of the good guys.

Unfortunately, the plot line has a potential which is never reached. One of my criticisms is that the story takes place within about a week’s time. The idea that all the events unfold this quickly defies logic. And even though it is a relatively short novel (the perfect length for a YA story) there are sections which drag. While the premise is interesting, the specific events leading up to the climax are dull, in spite of some “erroneous events” popping up along the way that at times enhance and at other times detract from the story. There are also a lot of random characters who make brief appearances but aren’t worth noticing. In addition, Edie’s thoughts are too often like a broken record. The most complex and interesting character is Jermaine. I would have liked to have heard more of his story. The romance between these two was gentle and appropriate for fifteen or sixteen year olds, with more of an emphasis on friendship then on passion.

Just because a book is meant for Young Adults, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve well developed characters with interesting motivations. Ms Payne needs to know when to spend more time on a topic, and when to eliminate unnecessary elements to the story, in order to create a more cohesive whole. Hopefully her next novel will reflect these recommendations. I give this book three stars.

I would like to thank Dundurn Press from Ontario, Canada and Netgalley for allowing me to download a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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