CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 12. . . .November 21, 2014
Since You've Been Gone is the story of Edie, who comes home from school one day to discover her mom is gone. Edie and her mother have been running from Edie's abusive father and have just arrived in London, and so Edie is on her own in a strange city. She goes on a cross-city search, fearing that her father has caught up with them and has done something to her mom. Edie doesn't trust the authorities because she's afraid they'll be on her father's side. When she runs out of money, she steals a donation can from her school, and Jermaine, a kid who is always in trouble, is blamed for the theft. When Edie tells Jermaine why she stole the money, he decides to help her look for her mother, guiding her through London's streets and subways and helping her dodge the police. She almost runs into her father, who has been looking for her, but she and Jermaine get away from him.
Then they happen to be on the scene when a toddler falls into the Thames, and Jermaine jumps in to save him. Reporters arrive, and when they interview Edie, she abandons all attempts at anonymity and tells everyone that she's looking for her mom. The police turn out to be helpful and sympathetic, and they contact Edie's aunt who comes to get her. After seeing Edie on the news, Edie's father comes forward to admit that he had a confrontation with her mom and that she died in a fall. Edie confronts her father in jail and tells him, "You're not going to ruin my life anymore."
Since You've Been Gone is fast-paced and compelling, the story of a girl who thinks she has nowhere to turn but finds help in the unlikeliest of places. It has a great first line: "Today I punched Ranice James in the face." The opening chapter dramatically establishes Edie's character and the constant tension in which she lives. Edie is waiting at home for her mom, worried about telling her that she got suspended, but then her mom calls and tells her to pack two bags and be ready to leave. Because Edie's father has located them again, they have to disappear. "And suddenly my suspension doesn't matter at all."
Edie is a convincing mixture of tough and vulnerable, and her situation creates instant empathy in the reader. The first-person narration conveys Edie's wary, observant stance toward the world and the background level of fear that drives all her choices. Her worry when her mom doesn't come home is palpable. The other characters are all realistically three-dimensional, whether they are bullies or potential friends. Edie's relationship with Jermaine develops haltingly from mistrust to friendship to the beginnings of romance.
Payne explores issues of race and poverty, the way people judge each other, the way youth can be marginalized. She has a clear agenda but lets her story and characters do the talking, so she doesn't come across as preachy. A subplot about bullying at school offers food for thought but no easy answers. The novel's ending has the neatness of a fictional wrap-up—and the clear message that it's okay to turn to adults and figures of authority—but still felt realistic.
The prose was generally readable, sometimes clunky and sometimes moving. The gritty urban setting was distinctly drawn, in particular the subtle differences between England and Canada.
Since You've Been Gone will appeal to anyone who likes realistic contemporary stories about youth facing difficult circumstances.
Kim Aippersbach is a writer and editor and mother of three in Vancouver, BC.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal
use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any
other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.