Since You’ve Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne • Magan Reviews

Since You've Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne

Since You’ve Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne
Publication Date: February 17, 2015
Publisher: Dundurn Group
Pages: 224
Target Audience: Young Adult Fiction
Keywords: missing parent, London, abusive parent
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Edie and her mom Sydney flee to London to get away from her abusive father; the day after her mom’s first night shift at her new job, she doesn’t ever return home. Edie decides she can’t go to the authorities because she doesn’t trust them (since her dad was a cop). She goes in search of Sydney with a guy from her school, Jermaine.

• • •

Since You’ve Been Gone had the potential to be a really great “whodunnit” thriller if it had kept me on the edge of my seat. Unfortunately, timing and unnecessary sexuality prevented me from staying hooked.

Edie and her mom, Sydney, pack up their lives within a few hours to flee Canada and take cover in London. For years they’ve been hopping from location to location to hide from her father. They left him when his abuse was no longer just verbal. He’s in law enforcement so outrunning him is difficult, but it is even less likely that someone would believe this cop is capable of being so aggressive.

Edie’s life in London is less than ideal — their apartment isn’t as homey as it is shabby (minus the chic). Forget about making friends; somehow she pisses off the mean girls on her first of school. Worst of all is that after her mom’s first day at her sketchy new job, she never reappears. Edie doesn’t receive a phone call from her and knows something’s gone awry; somehow her dad has always been able to figure out where they’ve gone. Has he resurfaced again so soon?

With a trail of lies following her and a lot of fear she’ll be thrown into the foster care system, Edie knows she can’t go to the authorities. She has to start the search for her mom on her own. She makes an unlikely “friend”, Jermaine, who has a rumor mill of gossip outlining his juvenile record. Jermaine and Edie set out to find Sydney, but hit dead end after dead end.

Edie’s story is an interesting one; I’m always fascinated by how people will get out of unbelievable circumstances. How would Edie and Jeramine do this on their own as two young teenagers with no detective skills scrounging for clues in London? That was the catch for me, but Since You’ve Been Gone lost its footing when things came to a screeching halt with a surprise revelation. It seemed like things were wrapped up abruptly from that point on. Essentially she had too much to handle and no way out without this loophole.

Quite possibly more upsetting was the escalation of the romance between Edie and Jermaine. I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that not all books need a love story. It didn’t feel authentic here. These two really started out as enemies, two people who didn’t trust one another, when the story began. When less than 24 hours later, they find themselves in Jermaine’s house and Edie is contemplating having sex with Jermaine all while tangled up in this great search for her mother, things just didn’t feel convincing. Is it possible to consider losing your virginity with a boy you’ve just met that you didn’t even trust at the beginning of the day all while wondering if you’re mother’s been kidnapped or murdered?

My answer would be no.

Since You’ve Been Gone had the potential to be a story I would have loved with more refinement and focus. I suggest you check out Liars, Inc. or Twisted Fate if you’re looking for a good “edge of your seat” book.

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Magan: Through to You by Lauren Barnholdt

book cover of through to you by lauren barnholdt

Through to You by Lauren Barnholdt (twitter | website)
Previously Reviewed: One Night That Changes Everything / Sometimes it Happens / The Thing About the Truth / Right of Way / Two-Way Street
Publication Date: July 8, 2014
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Pages: 256
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: choreography, roller-coaster relationships
Format Read: ARC from Publisher via Edelweiss (Thank you!)

Summary: Intrigued by a note left on her desk and a few convincing words by the note-writer, Penn, Harper decides to ditch school to learn more about him. Penn is a closed-off guy and Harper desperately wants to strip away his tough-guy exterior to learn more about him.


Good golly, Miss Molly. I really dread having to sit down at my computer to write a review about a book that just didn’t resonate with me. But alas, I want to be as honest and transparent as possible so unfortunately that means I have to suck it up.

Through to You was my third novel of Lauren Barnholdt’s to read. My complaints in the past have been that there wasn’t enough depth and character development before the final page was turned. I wanted a higher level of believability. However, those continue to be two of my biggest complaints after completing this novel.

Harper is a girl who flies under-the-radar; she has one best friend, is a good student, and is going to audition for a spot in a prestigious choreography program. Penn randomly walks by her desk in the one class they have together and drops a note on her desk that reads, “I like your sparkle.” This is the introduction to Harper and Penn’s very roller-coaster-esque relationship. Harper doesn’t know why Penn would leave her the note. Penn doesn’t know why he left the note for Harper. I immediately felt disinterested in Penn. What were his intentions? Did he want to lead her on or was he really interested? Prior to that one moment, the two of them had never spoken. My gut told me that Penn wasn’t to be trusted.

After an awkward hallway conversation, Penn convinces Harper to ditch school. She’s intrigued by this boy and seeks to know why he would leave her the note. They have very little to discuss, not knowing much about the other or what common interests they have. She was such a gullible character to blindly follow this boy she knew so little about. As she learns more and more about him, as he proves that he’s unstable, moody, and hard to relate to, Harper takes on a savior complex. Though she knows she should back away, she repeatedly falls victim to his half-hearted apologies. Penn was confusing and angsty, and while he would make Harper feel useless and seemed disinterested, she continued to push aside her anger and was too easily swayed by her need to fix him. (Though he rarely shared information about his personal life, so she was never quite sure what needed to be fixed.)

Ideally, I would have liked for Harper to have had more of a backbone, more strength. For all these other interests she had, choreography per se, there’s very little of her actually working on those things that she’s passionate about. The girl I got to know tossed all of those things aside and became fixated on the unobtainable boy. Overall this would have strengthened the flow of the story so that when the day arrives for Harper to audition, it doesn’t seem out of place for the sequence of events to occur.

While Through to You is a very casual read, it doesn’t exhibit the type of relationship I’d like to see teenage girls (or anyone for that matter) pursuing or idolizing. I want to read strong stories about girls who are chasing boys that aren’t disinterested and stringing them along. I want to see girls who are still able to stay true to themselves and boys who make an effort to do better for that girl, not encourage them, repeatedly, to skip class and cast aside all responsibility.

Unfortunately, Through to You wasn’t a hit for me. If you’ve read it and you saw things through a different perspective than mine, please share your thoughts below. I’m always, always curious to know if I missed something when I didn’t connect with a book.

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book review of Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein

Magan: Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein

book review of Dear Cassie by Lisa BursteinDear Cassie by Lisa Burstein <website | twitter>
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Publisher: Entangled
Pages: 352
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: wilderness rehab, cheating relationships, bad friendships, negligent parents
Format read: ARC received via Netgalley (Thank you!)

Summary: After Cassie and her two best friends, Lila and Amy, were caught with pot on prom night, she’s sent to a wilderness rehab in California for 30 days. Though the judge thinks she has a drug problem, that’s not it at all — she has a big secret she’s trying to recover from and feels she deserves much worse than living in dirty clothes without showers or proper toilets after what she’s done.

Cassie is uncertain of who she is when her story begins in Dear Cassie. She’s just been sentenced to 30 days in a wilderness rehab in the middle of nowhere after being caught with pot (that she and her best friends, Amy and Lila, stole from Lila’s boyfriend on prom night after he and his friend stood them up.)

Do you ever have the feeling when you start a book that you can’t wait to read it because the idea sounds original? That’s what I thought about Dear Cassie. I read lots of issue books, and definitely my fair share of rehab books. I hoped I’d get to see a girl come full circle with whatever problems she was struggling with. I expected a page-turner that I couldn’t put down. The wilderness rehab sounded like a brilliant idea. There’s lots of manual labor involved — there are no luxuries and certainly no pampering. It’s all about survival and working long, long days doing things you never thought you’d do.

However, I wasn’t able to embrace Cassie’s story nearly as much as I had wanted to. The story begins as Cassie’s waiting to be transported from the airport to rehab. She has an encounter with a boy named Ben who punches her buttons and makes her snappy attitude surface (and also an insta-love story that I didn’t swoon over). There’s little of Cassie’s history in the beginning, which made embracing her character description that much more difficult throughout the book. She’s supposed to be tough as nails, mentions getting angry a lot (which results in physical fights), and she’s just generally not someone to be messed with. I felt like I was told about her much more than I was shown who she was. Her reactions were much weaker, making her more vulnerable and fragile than I felt she would have been according to her character traits. Also note that I wasn’t aware at all that Dear Cassie is a follow-up novel to Pretty Amy. Nowhere in the Goodreads description was I warned, and maybe a lot more of the book would have made sense if I knew that. That being said, I don’t feel Dear Cassie should be marketed as a standalone since reading Pretty Amy seems to be a prerequisite.

Her back story was told through her journal entries where she shared pieces of her life each evening. Cassie has a problem being straightforward and honest about everything that happened, especially pertaining to the big secret she was hiding. The back and forth storytelling left me feeling a bit discombobulated. There’s a particular moment when Cassie shares details about an event with Amy and Lila that I am still not sure was true or what was assumed to be true in court. I found it difficult to piece together the sequence of events, often finding it necessary to stop reading to remember what happened when so I could understand Cassie’s actions and emotions better. (Looking back, there also wasn’t a ton of resolution between Cassie, Lila, and Amy either. If I was the only one that got sent to rehab after what they went through, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot to flesh out.)

Realistically, I would assume much more than journaling would cause a person to have major epiphanies about their life with secrets like Cassie was hiding. She would have benefited from having to talk to someone; her rehab leader, Rawe, halfheartedly tried to coax Cassie into opening up, but she didn’t seem to have the skill set necessary to make an impact. Maybe this is why when Cassie’s days of rehab were over, I felt concerned that she still wasn’t dealing with her reality very well. Sure, she wasn’t making mental threats to punch people anymore, but I didn’t find her emotional growth to be what it should have been. I felt she was still putting her faith in other people and not herself to make smart choices. Everything going forward seemed to have a big question mark and was no better off than when Cassie began her 30 days away. A few too many things were left open-ended and unresolved.

With a bit of restructuring, Dear Cassie could be a much stronger story. Cassie would have been a more believable character if I was able to see  more of her life before entering rehab. This may have eliminated some of the jarring back and forth scenes that separated me from the story, and with the addition of actual counseling supplementing the manual labor, maybe Cassie would have grown into a woman I was sure would succeed instead of one I’m afraid might not really be healed of her brokenness.

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book cover for And Then Things Fall Apart

Magan: And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky

book cover for And Then Things Fall Apart

And Then Things Fall Apart by Arlaina Tibensky

Pages: 254
Release Date: July 6, 2011
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover borrowed from the library.
How I heard about it: The pretty cover attracted me.

: Keek’s life does a complete 180 when she is diagnosed with the chicken pox (at 15?!), her dad is caught cheating on her mom, she has to move in with her grandmother, her boyfriend doesn’t check in to make sure she’s not dying, and her mom flees to California. Everything falls apart at the same time; what a great summer it’s going to be for Keek.

I was so hopeful that And Then Things Fall Apart was going to be a sweet, fun read. It sounded like Keek was going through a lot and I was ready to go all Jersey Shore with a fist pump in celebration of another contemporary young adult book. I wish I could say that And Then Things Fell Apart lived up to my expectations.

Keek was a whiny fifteen-year-old character. She complained about absolutely everything. In the beginning, I gave her a lot of leeway because I understood she was dealing with tons of drama (i.e. a cheating dad, a runaway mother, and the chicken pox). And let’s face it – some (if not most) fifteen-year-olds are self-centered and annoying. Keek thought her world was ending because she’d gotten the chicken pox and she was upset her boyfriend hadn’t called her. She was hallucinating because of the fevers and often didn’t make much sense. She repeated herself endlessly. I sometimes found myself skipping over bits of text because she was saying the. exact. same. thing. again.

Keek is obsessed with two things, both of which I didn’t understand one bit. She is crazy about Sylvia Plath’s book The Bell Jar. She reads it constantly, references it multiple times on nearly every other page, and compares her situation to the characters. For someone who wasn’t familiar with the book, it was hard to care about that portion of the story. A lot of explaining was necessary to draw the parallel between Plath’s book and Keek’s life, but it didn’t really seem fitting when such an immature character was explaining the depths of Plath’s work.

Her second obsession: losing her virginity. I didn’t grasp why she “just wanted to get it over with.” This was where I felt most disconnected — Keek seemed so childish and young in many ways, but she was absorbed with Plath’s work and wanting to lose her virginity. Her actions and behavior didn’t convince me she was mature enough to understand or even begin to comprehend either of those two things. Her father had also just been outed for cheating on her mom; I didn’t believe someone in her position would treat something like their virginity so flippantly after finding out such devastating news.

The reader is very much inside Keek’s mind during the entire book. She’s solitary and alone because she’s sick, has few friends, and her boyfriend is MIA. Although I thought the concept for the book was fun, I found that there was only so much development that Tibensky could do with a sick character. She has rare conversations with her grandmother and she doesn’t communicate with her mom or dad. Due to the lack of dialogue, the story progressed slowly. I found it less believable that Keek would have matured in the ways that she did because she didn’t have anyone to guide her to a better understanding of all that was happening.

One of my least favorite parts of the book was the poetry. Keek is learning how to type and chooses to write poems. I didn’t feel like they blended into the story well. They didn’t add anything that gave me insight into Keek’s character and ultimately, I didn’t find they were necessary. I skipped over the poetry toward the end of the book because I felt like much of it became a filler.

Overall, I didn’t love And Then Things Fall Apart. I was on such a roll for great 2012 books, but this one didn’t cut it for me.

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book cover for Flirting in Italian by Lauren Henderson

Magan: Flirting in Italian by Lauren Henderson

book cover for Flirting in Italian by Lauren Henderson

Flirting in Italian by Lauren Henderson
Publication Date: June 12, 2012
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Pages: 320
Keywords: Adoption, Travel, Studying Abroad, Italy, Bad Relationships
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format Read: Paperback from ALA (Thank you!)

Summary: Violet chooses to do an 8-week course in Italy to investigate why she looks so like a modern-day duplicate of an 18th century woman said to have been painted in a castle near Florence.

We’re all told that we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover (or really, not even by it’s name). For months I’ve been declaring my excitement for Flirting in Italian and how anxious I was to read it. Unfortunately, I felt like the cute name and cover didn’t match the content inside. I was desperately left wanting more and in a really let down mood — to the point where I was unable to sleep after finishing and didn’t want to pick up another book for several days. I have never been affected by a book in this way — it left me skeptical and afraid the next book would fall short of my expectations, too. (Not sure if you guys feel the same way, but I don’t deal well with reading back-to-back frustrating books and somehow this one took away my hope that the next book would be incredible.)

Note: I am fully aware that I might be in the minority of people by announcing my dislike for this book. Let me try to help you understand why in the least spoilery way.

My first immediate reaction was that I couldn’t connect at all with the main character, Violet. I usually find a way to sympathize with most characters, even if they’re the polar opposite of me. I think that’s a tell-tale sign for a good author — someone who can make us get so emotionally involved despite our differences. Violet was bratty, spoiled, judgmental, competitive, and completely insecure. Her inner commentary drove me mad. She is supposed to live with four other girls for the summer in Italy while she’s trying to figure out why she looks like the mirror image of a girl in an 18th century painting. I could NOT take the constant distrustful and comparative dialogue; it left little hope for friendships to actually bond the girls because Violet was so much “better” than them. For someone who was also incredibly self-loathing body-image wise, home girl sure did think she had it going on and was better than everyone else.

I just wanted someone to put her in her place.

Next issue: I really appreciate when an author assumes their reader will retain information even if they only state it once. I don’t like being berated with duplicate information. So often, Flirting in Italian just seemed like a broken record. I don’t know how many times it was mentioned that Violet had never been to Italy before or picked up a paintbrush; however, once she set foot in Italy, she just wanted to paint everything. I could have dealt with her excitement over painting if she was actually painting. (That didn’t occur until approximately 50 pages from the end. Finally.) Paige, one of the girls studying abroad with Violet, was constantly referred to as the girl who said aloud what was on everyone’s mind and jumped into conversations. QUIT TELLING ME SHE DOES THOSE THINGS AND JUST SHOW THEM TO ME.

I suppose I’ve never better understood the phrase “show me, don’t tell me” when referring to a book. A lot of unnecessary telling was going on in Flirting in Italian.

My last and probably greatest issue was that Violet went to Italy in search of answers. She was trying to figure out if she was adopted. I thought that would play a huge part in the book and oh, coincidentally, a cute boy would pop into the picture. Nope. Not the case. Three quarters of the way through the book, Violet was just starting to wonder about the castle where the painting was said to have been made. So much attention was paid to the parties and the terrible boy, Luca, that she insta-love-crushed on that it felt like Henderson ran out of time to make her case for the painting. I realized about a quarter of the way through that there was NO way we were going to make our way through 8 weeks in Italy, especially since not even a week had gone by. Aside from the gross, sickening ending that had me audibly gagging, I was infuriated that this book was split into a two-parter.

I kid you not, friends, this book ends by saying to check out the companion novel Following in Love in Italian (which currently has no information available on Goodreads). This story is unnecessarily being split into multiple books; major editing could have been done to strengthen the plot to fit everything neatly into a standalone book.

As you all are aware, I’m a girl who loves kissy scenes. Let me not graze over Luca. I have a bone to pick with his character as well. He was confusing and a d-bag and downright rude. I didn’t find a redeeming quality whatsoever throughout the entire book. He was purely written into Flirting in Italian to provide make-out scenes. That sounds like a big WIN, but their whole relationship was way too dramatic for me. [insert many an eye roll] If what you’re expecting is Stephanie Perkins-esque, stop right where you are. You will be disappointed.

So. *paces back and forth* How do you guys feel about Flirting in Italian by Lauren Henderson now? Have you read it? Did you feel the same way? Please let me know!

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