A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Since You've Been Gone is the latest summer-set teen novel by young-adult author Morgan Matson. Unlike her previous book, Second Chance Summer, which was heavy and emotional, this story is more light-hearted and friendship-themed, chronicling how the main character spends a summer crossing off items from a must-do list sent by her best friend. There's some infrequent strong language ("f--k," "s--t," "a--hole") and a couple of adolescent-appropriate references to making out, hooking up, and finding someone to love. Like all of Matson's books, Since You've Been Gone is a lovely tribute to unconditional friendship, strong sibling relationships, and finding the kind of romance that changes your life.
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What's the story?
Emily is ready to have an amazing summer working and hanging out with her BFF Sloane in their picturesque Connecticut town of Stanwich, but her plans are foiled when she realizes Sloane and her family have moved without a trace -- leaving no text message, no email, and no forwarding address. Two weeks after painfully shy Emily discovers her extroverted, life-of-the-party bestie has gotten out of dodge, she receives a letter from Sloane. The letter consists of a 13-item checklist of things Sloane must do, from relatively simple tasks such as "apple-picking at night" and "sleep under the stars" to much squirmier commands such as "kiss a stranger" and "go skinny-dipping." With the help of handsome (but taken) class valedictorian Frank Porter, new pal Dawn, and Frank's clownish best friend Collins, Emily tackles "the list" seriously in hopes of finding Sloane.
Is it any good?
Author Morgan Matson has quickly developed into one of contemporary YA's most delightful authors, creating thoughtful stories about friendship, family, and first love. Whereas Second Chance Summer and Amy and Roger's Epic Detour both focused on main characters grieving the loss of a parent, SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE chronicles a different kind of grief: the abrupt loss of a friend (who's still alive but mysteriously gone without any communication except a letter). Matson deftly captures the intimacy of teen best friendship -- how it really does feel like you're "only half" (and, in many cases, the "lesser" half) of a two-person whole. Emily sans Sloane is barely able to talk to strangers, so the list is like a farewell present that dares Emily to find out what makes her awesome all on her own.
The romance in Since You've Been Gone isn't as straightforward as it is between Taylor and Henry in Second Chance Summer, but it's a satisfying slow burn reminiscent of Amy and Roger's in Matson's first novel. The friends-to-more theme might be obvious in YA (and all romances, for that matter), but it's a much more fulfilling alternative to the "instalove" that's so prevalent in teen books. What's even better than the romance in Emily's story is that it's a tale of self-discovery. At first, Emily honestly doesn't think she's worth knowing without her more popular and outgoing best friend, so it's heartening to see her discover how captivating she is, too.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the popularity of books about life-changing summers. Why is summer such a magical time for teens? What are some of your favorite books set in summer?
What messages do you take away from Since You've Been Gone about taking risks and going outside your comfort zone? Which parts of the list were good for Emily and which weren't so easy?
How are romantic relationships treated in the book? Why is Dawn so upset with Emily for kissing Frank? Do you agree with Dawn's view of what constitutes cheating?
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