Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dueling Titles

The Since You've Been Gone that I just finished (by Mary Jennifer Payne) is not the Since You've Been Gone I've been seeing lately on bookstore shelves (by Morgan Matson).  I got this one as an ARC, and it's not out yet.  So when I saw that in the bookstore and thought, oh yeah, I was just about to read that--it was a different book.  Don't get confused.

The book I finished today is about a teenager, Edie, whose life has been upended yet again when she and her mother had to run from her abusive father. This time they've left Canada for London, and Edie is not thrilled.  She's the new kid again, she had to leave her friends and her cat, and the teachers at her new school are not very sympathetic.

But the real story starts when Edie's mother doesn't come home from her first shift at her new job.  Because they're on the run, she's afraid to go to the police, and she really doesn't want to end up in the social services system.  She determines to find her mother, and acquires a sidekick in her quest in the form of Jermaine, a tough guy with a sensitive side from school.

This book was fine.  For the most part it was enjoyable--I liked Edie, and her relationship with her mom, and her combination of frustration and adaptability.  It moved along briskly and kept me interested.

I think the best part was the details about the peripheral characters were really nice--every single person really came alive, even the ones who just showed up briefly and would, in many books, have been flat and stereotypical.  Precious (school bully), Imogen (shy reject), the guard at the office building, the guy selling doughnuts--all these characters seemed real, and human, and there was a real sense of depth in the London that she and Jermaine traipse through.

It was kind of cool, too, that no one's race was described.  I mean, I guessed that Jermaine was black for a few reasons, but you don't find out for sure till later in the book.  And on my Kindle, I wasn't sure that Edie was white, either.  It made some of the characterization--how Jermaine has been marked as a bad seed at school, for example--more interesting, because how race played into it was left up to me for a long time.

Ultimately, the problem with the book was with the plotting.  The scene setting, the characters, the interactions were all great.  But the plot--mom's missing, have to find her!--was pretty poorly paced.  I really have no idea how to look for someone who's missing in a big city, but I can pretty much guarantee that as soon as you walk out the door and look left and right up and down the street, you're going to realize you need a plan.  Edie did not have a plan.  Even after she got one, she didn't follow it very closely, didn't seem driven by it. 

It's actually something I've seen in other stories, where the Big Thing We Need To Do is really more of a thing that we worry and talk about instead of acting on.  Edie spends almost three days worrying before she actually takes some action.  She doesn't even call hospitals, which is the stereotypical thing you do when someone's missing--I'd think that even Edie had seen a show where someone said to their errant teenager, "I was calling the hospitals, I was so worried," and would have thought to do that.

Between that and the way-too-abrupt wrap-up at the end--way, way too abrupt--I'm left kind of flat.  This would have been a better book if it had just been about trying to fit in, build a home in a new city, or something like that.  The structure felt forced and ultimately dragged down what was initially a really good read.

The really positive thing that I'll say is that I'd definitely read another book by this author.  I think, if she'd been writing the right book for her, it would have been really excellent.

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