I was instantly intrigued when I stumbled across the short description of Mary Jennifer Payne’s upcoming Since You’ve Been Gone and read that it was about a teenage girl already coping with the constant uprooting that comes from fleeing an abuser who then must decide what to do when her mother – her main protector – goes missing. The plight of domestic abuse victims and the difficulties of resolving the situation when the system to do so has a nasty habit of protecting the abusers is one that gets mentioned from time to time, but rarely examined or portrayed in great depth. I was looking forward to a novel for young adults that would help young people to learn about the complexities of such abuse and inspire them to fight back, to seek ways to fix the broken system.
Edie and her mother have been running and hiding from her father for years. Edie is surprised when their latest move takes them out of Canada altogether and back to her mother’s native London – and another new school. Her first day is rough as Edie quickly manages to become a target of bullies. Her mother’s excitement over a new job – despite the fact that it means working nights and leaving Edie on her own a lot – helps Edie get through those first days. When Edie is late for school the morning after her mother’s first shift at her new job, she realizes her mother hadn’t been home. She doesn’t begin to panic until later that day when she notices that her mom still hasn’t been to the apartment. Going to the police could mean being placed in the foster system or worse, being sent right into the arms of her father. So Edie decides to find her mother on her own, even if that requires combing the streets of a large and unfamiliar city.
Since You’ve Been Gone aims to address more than just issues of domestic abuse. It tackles issues of racism, classism, and bullying as well. Unfortunately, it stretches itself a little too thin. Subtlety and development are sacrificed in favor of a complicated and disjointed search that pushes the limits of believability (even for an emotional teenager). Telling is substituted for showing too frequently, making it difficult to completely connect with the characters. Given how short the novel was, additions could easily have been made that included flashbacks to the years of abuse Edie and her mother suffered and their struggle to escape. Edie speaks about how tenacious her father is in his pursuit of them, how he’s always managed to find them but she there’s only one instance of their fleeing that we see firsthand in the narrative and that is interrupted, cut short.
Ultimately, there just isn’t enough time spent developing the characters for the tragic events of the novel to carry the appropriate emotional impact. The themes and messages are reduced to blatant moralizing and fairy tale-esque confrontations that fail to ring true. Points are made and glossed over so quickly, they almost might as well miss the mark altogether. I was disappointed given the promise I saw in the premise. But while it may not make readers think as deeply about how to fix the issues presented, it might at least keep readers aware that such problems exist.
Since You’ve Been Gone will be available for purchase January 24, 2015.