Review: ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ by Mary Jennifer Payne

Since You've Been Gone by Mary Jennifer PayneI love a good dramatic tale; my books don’t all need to be humorous, fantasy-filled or many tissues required. A mystery or thriller is just the ticket sometimes. What I find grinding about some serious stories, though, is when the narrative is flat and dull and the protagonist uninteresting and lifeless.

Edie Fraser and her mother, Sydney, are on the move again. Edie never gets much advance notice, and she can’t take much with her. Lately they’ve been living in Toronto, but this next move will take the two of them to London. Edie is so tired of new schools, dealing with new people and having to learn her way around a new city, just to be uprooted again.

Securing a job where she can get paid under the table, Sydney has to work nights cleaning office buildings. When Edie arrives home after her first day at school, she can tell immediately that her mother never came home. Later in the week, when her mother has still not returned to their South London flat, Edie fears the worst has happened. There’s a reason they have to be on the run, and Edie is sure that he’s followed them to England. Stealing money from school that was collected for charity, Edie prepares to search for her mother in a city where she’s a total stranger. And when Jermaine Lewis, a fellow student from school is accused of taking the charity money and then suspended, he demands that she tell him why he should cover for her. Then, together, they start the journey to solve the mystery of Sydney’s disappearance.

But what will they find at the end?

The first thing I noticed, after the requisite mean and nasty girl took her swipes at our heroine, was how rude the adults at the school were to the students. The snark and ugly personal comments were way out of line, so I can only assume that the reader was to deduce from this that this was a “bad school” with “bad kids.” Plus, the teacher and administrators asked Edie where her transfer papers (from her last school) were, like she, a kid, would know? Of course that was in there to show that there was something fishy going on about their move from Canada, but I seriously doubt that this would happen IRL. With all of this moving and sneaking around, I am also surprised to see that the mom/daughter duo has never gone by a fake name.

Edie is a personality-free teen who is angry and morose and mad that their cat got left behind (seriously, the mom just left it with a bowl of food on the front porch). She thinks grumpy thoughts and punched a girl at her last school. This tells us that she’s (1) not to be trifled with and (2) grumpy. While she’s definitely unhappy about the moving around, losing friends, being boyfriendless, etc. and acts grumpy (grumpy!) toward her mother, once Sydney is missing, she can’t even think about a future without her wonderful mom. Not that she wouldn’t be worried, but, to be honest, there was no thread of a connection there between them for her to be all teary-eyed and sobbing and throwing things. I’m just saying that Edie’s reactions took me by surprise.

For someone who just moved there, Edie seems to have taken to the language/slang quickly. Or maybe they spoke that way in Canada? And please, can someone please explain to me what “kissing his teeth” means in this example: “Jermaine rolls his eyes at me and kisses his teeth loudly at the man…” I’ll need loads of help on that one.

This story gets on the bus, goes straight down the line, and get where it’s going. While there’s talk of a mystery, it just isn’t very mysterious. Nothing surprising happens and the tale ends up exactly where you think it will.

Since You’ve Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne was published February 17, 2015 by Dundurn Group. A free copy of this book was given to Ink and Page in return for an honest review. Big thanks to the author, publisher and NetGalley.

Rating: 2

Genre: Young Adult Fiction Contemporary
Ages: 13 and up
FYI: Talk of violence, drinking, drugs

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