I gave myself a challenge this year to read at least three hundred books by the end of the year. I’ve done pretty good so far, I finished Suicide Squad and two erotica’s. But I wanted to read books that I missed the popularity band wagon on. So, with the help of Goodreads and the Instagram bookstagram tag, I compiled a list of all the books I want to read. starting with “Since You’ve Been Gone” by Morgan Matson.
“It was Sloane who yanked Emily out of her shell and made life 100% interesting. But right before what should have been the most epic summer, Sloane just . . . disappears. All she leaves behind is a to-do list.
On it, thirteen Sloane inspired tasks that Emily would normally never try. But what if they could bring her best friend back?
Apple picking at night? Okay easy enough.
Dance until dawn? Sure. Why not?
Kiss a stranger? Um . . .
Emily now has this unexpected summer, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected), to check things off Sloane’s list. Who knows what she’ll find?
Go skinny dipping? Wait . . . what?”
I’m gonna be honest, I didn’t even read this when I first got the book. The cover was pretty enticing ( I’m a sucker for good fonts) and the little blurbs I’d read seemed to be enough for me. So I put this book on a pile of other books I planned to read, and went on with life.
When I first learned about Sloane I realized she was the Manic Pixie Dream girl archetype (specifically Margo Roth Spiegleman from Paper Towns) and I kept calling her Margo in my head. This was pretty early on in the book too, like first chapter. I kept calling her that even in my notes. Paper Towns came out first though, so. You’d think we let that stupid trope die, buried with all the films from Zooey Deschanel’s career.
I was determined, despite it’s cliched and trope filled beginnings, to give this book a fair chance. This is the type of book I would have been all over in middle school. Published in 2014 it seems I’d just missed the mark. The book was leagues ahead of everything else I’d read this year. And based off the of the light snooping I did on Goodreads, I decided I needed to get off my high horse and give this book a chance.
Boy am I glad I did! This book sucked me in the second I allowed it to, and I was thrust on this journey with Emily. I was desperate to finish this list while overcoming my social anxiety. Emily just wanted to spend the summer with her charismatic best friend. Watson does an amazing job at accurately portraying Emily’s social anxiety and her issues with sticking up for herself in a few painful, but funny, scenes.
“So,” I said, but not loudly enough, as the guys continued to talk to to each other, none of them looking over at me, two of them having an argument about whose turn it was to fertilize, while the guy from last year’s English class held his baseball cap in his hands, bending the bill into a curve. “So,” I said, but much too loudly this time, and the guys stopped talking and looked at me again. I could feel my palms sweating, but I knew I had to keep going, that I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I just turned around and left.”
Emily struggles with this for another whole page, and you as the reader are left cringing in sympathy. I was worried, that Matson would make a mistake a lot of writers make when writing character’s with anxiety or depression, and that’s go for the obvious and physical signs of anxiety. The heavy breathing, the sweating, the stammering, etc. Watson has Emily tell us how she’s feeling, the self loathing, the embarrassment, the shame, the hope that things will be different.
Emily is so intrinsically me that I find myself connecting with her almost immediately. Especially when she begins making some her more idiotic decisions.
Through a series of flashbacks, we get to see just what kind of friendship Sloane and Emily had. It mostly involved Emily going along with whatever crazy idea Sloane has without question. Which brings me back to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope. Sloan is Margo Roth Speigleman, Sloane is Zooey Deschanel. She does all these weird things and dresses funny but instead of that marking her as the outcast weirdo (like it would me or Emily) it just makes her seem that much cooler. Margo is well known in their high school and their town in general while Emily, who’s been living there since middle school, is only known as her friend.
When reading about how Emily thinks of Sloane, you worry about the power imbalance inherent in that friendship. Emily wears what Sloane tells her to wear and can only go places if Sloane is with her and only dated a really sweet guy named Gideon because Sloane told her to.
“I realized that I was waiting for someone else to jump in and direct this interaction, but unfortunately, there was just me, doing a very poor job of it. If Sloane had been here, she would have known what to say. Something funny, something flirty, and then I would have known what to say too, whether to chime in, or make the kind of joke I only ever seem to be able to make around her.”
I worry throughout this whole book that Sloane isn’t what she seems, that Emily will go through this list, face her fears, just to realize that Sloane is just a regular bitch.
In the meantime, Matson gives us lots of other character’s to meet and fall in love with. Like Frank Porter, the resident career student and all around good guy who’s stuck in town this summer because of his parents’ messy divorce. He’s the first to volunteer to help Emily with her list from Sloane, proving already to be a better friend than Sloane herself. Frank Porter is an honest to god sweetheart though. Cinnamon roll with a capital SIN (*wink wink* six pack *wink wink*) he’s the guy who agrees to drive his high school crush across state lines when she breaks his heart after an amazing summer together.
Seriously if you don’t read this book for anything else, read it for Frank Porter, Mr. Dudley Do-Right with abs of steel and a heart of gold.
The second sweetie we get to meet is Collins, the lovable goofball in every movie. The resident sidekick to the resident hot guy, Collins fills his role as Frank’s best friend well. Especially when it comes to a touching and slightly heartbreaking moment near the end of the book. Collins spends the majority of the novel getting his friends into silly situations, getting turned down by girls way out of his league, and having touching moments that bring a heft dose of reality to this whole story.
The book doesn’t waste too much time getting right down to the list, and with the help of Frank, Collins, and a cute pizza delivery girl named Dawn Emily befriended in pursuit of completing the list, everything gets done pretty quickly. Emily comes out of her shell, as she completes each item. She finds who she is without Sloane, which I loved most of all. Sometimes it seemed like Emily was entirely defined by Sloane and worst of all, she didn’t mind being seen that way.
“I caught my reflection in the mirror . . . I was wearing a vintage T-shirt Sloane had insisted I buy . . . My hair was brown, pin-straight, and long . . . but any time I’d talked about cutting it, Sloane had protested.”
Emily went from practically centering her entire outfit around what Sloane would want and what Sloane thought looked good on her, to picking out clothing that felt more like Emily.
“I reached for a Sloane-chosen outfit–a vintage dress from Twice that I’d worn a lot last summer. But after I put it on, I found myself pulling at the straps, tugging the hem, not liking what I saw in the mirror. For some reason, it didn’t feel like me any longer. I took it off and changed into the denim skirt I’d bought with Dawn last week and a white eyelet top. Feeling more like myself somehow . . .”
I applaud Matson for showing actually growth in the relationships and individual characters organically. I do not, however, applaud her decision to have Emily take Sloane back as her best friend when she finally does find her.
It turns out that Sloane had been living a glamorous lie. Her parents were basically broke and their rich relatives allowed them to live in their summer/vacation/homes while they’re away. When those relatives do comeback, Sloane and her parents are back on the street and looking for a new home. She explains to Emily that she kept up this illusion of cool disaffection because she didn’t want to disappoint her.
And the reason she left so abruptly with no explanation, she wanted to save the two of them the awful fade away that happened when best friends moved apart.
How selfish of her! New, confident Emily won’t forgive her. Emily won’t forgive her after spending weeks thinking something horrible had happened, thinking that she no longer wanted to be her friend anymore.
Emily forgives her. Because, deep down, they are honestly the same in their selfishness. Remember Gideon, the cutey I mentioned earlier? Well he’s the technical ex of Emily’s. When Sloane began dating a guy named Sam from another school, Sloane felt guilty for always abandoning her friend for her boyfriend. Luckily, Sam had a single best friend as well. So, with Sloane’s insistence, Emily begins to awkwardly date a boy she’d never chosen for herself.
When Sloane and Sam’s relationship ends, Emily takes it upon herself to break up with Gideon as well. Which in turn brings up a key character flaw that both Emily and Sloane share: they are both endlessly selfish people who put their own comfort over the feelings of others and don’t deserve the good friends they have.
Sloane stops talking to Emily, a girl she once spent every day with, and doesn’t tell her that she’s moving because her family members will no longer let them squat at their summer home. She leaves only a list, that she fully expects Emily to do, and nothing else. Emily was freaking out over the loss of her friend, and when she eventually finds Sloane, the girl excuses her behavior by saying she didn’t want their friendship to fade away because of the distance.
Which. Understandable. But the fact that Emily isn’t more upset or devastated by the fact that her friend was able to move two states away and said nothing for three months about where she’d gone. The fact that after a whole summer of growth and learning to trust her opinion of herself, Emily still forgives Sloane for her selfishness is baffling. It’s like the whole summer couldn’t have happened at all. Because no matter what as long as Emily eventually found Sloane, she would have forgiven her anyway.
But we see Emily exert this same behavior, with Gideon and with Frank.
After establishing a tentative but sweet relationship with Gideon, she quickly and cruelly ended their relationship without telling him why or speaking to him ever again. She does nothing to explain herself and then when he sees her later that summer hanging out with Frank he gets the wrong (technically the right) idea and is justly upset by what Emily’s done.
Then, after kissing Frank while he was still with his girlfriend, and then hardheartedly saying the kiss meant nothing and you could go back to being friends is insane. And then, when she figured out where Margo- er….Sloane, was living, she immediately showed up on Frank’s front step.
Keep in mind that her asking him to drive her two states over to see Sloane, is actually the first time they’ve spoken after she told him that the kiss they shared meant nothing.
AND THEN HE DID IT. Beautiful, selfless, soul-puppy Frank drove selfish ass Emily across state lines (which is technically a felony and if her parents knew they could have him arrested) to see a chick he’s been hearing about all summer.
Just that alone made the book end on a sour note for me, and I found that I didn’t even care to read the last page.