by Lauren Strasnick
Published by Simon Pulse
on January 8, 2013
Blurb (adapted from Goodreads): In the tradition of 13 Reasons Why, a suspenseful and heart-wrenching novel.
Two years ago, Adrienne’s best friend walked out of her life. One week ago, she left Adrienne a desperate, muffled voicemail. Adrienne never called back. Now Dakota is missing. She left behind a string of broken hearts, a flurry of rumors, and a suicide note. Adrienne can’t stop obsessing over what might have happened if she’d answered Dakota’s call. And she’s increasingly convinced that Dakota must still be alive. Maybe finding and saving Dakota is the only way Adrienne can save herself. Or maybe it’s too late for them both.
My take: This book and I got off on the wrong foot at first because of that Goodreads blurb, above.
I would describe Thirteen Reasons Why as high-concept commercial YA. I'd categorize Then You Were Gone as literary YA. It's a much quieter book that's more in the vein of something like Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfeld.
While Then You Were Gone didn't turn out to be what I expected, I enjoyed it. It's beautifully written. It's also short -- barely over 200 pages -- and employs an impressive economy of language. Each chapter is only a couple of pages long -- one short scene, and that's it. For me, this was a refreshing change from the 400+ page YA behemoths I am regularly expected to read. Sometimes less is more.
My favorite thing after the writing was the book's sense of place. Then You Were Gone is set in California and, though there were no long descriptive passages, I can picture the setting of the book perfectly in my head. Just a few well-chosen, well-placed details, like dying palm trees that aren't native to the area... the Pacific Coast Highway ... eating fish tacos from a stand ... parties in a house off Mulholland .. divey sorts of clubs like the one where River Phoenix OD'd -- okay, I added that last part ... flea markets ... coyotes, canyons, valleys, freeways.
I've only been to California a few times, but this totally fits with the glamorous, fake, slightly-seedy-around-the-edges image I have of the place in my (admittedly vivid) imagination. Perfection.
However -- and again, perhaps this was because I was expecting something different -- there were things about the book that took some adjustment. I was expecting the book to be about Adrienne trying to find Dakota. Instead, as the title suggests, the book is more about Adrienne's feelings about Dakota being missing.
To recap, Adrienne gets a weird, muffled voicemail from her former friend Dakota. Since Adrienne and Dakota have been out of touch for two years, Adrienne doesn't respond. When Dakota turns up missing, a guilty Adrienne checks in with her best friend Kate and her boyfriend Lee. It was okay that she didn't answer Dakota's voicemail, right?
Yes, Kate says. "She's in a band. Rock people pull this shit. She'll turn up."
Yes, Lee says. "That girl's a loon and her band sucks."
Adrienne seems to agree. She doesn't care that Dakota is missing. And she doesn't tell us much about Dakota, just that Dakota is in a band, that she's the kind of girl that other girls both admire and fear, and that she and Dakota ate cupcakes together and stuff when they were twelve.
But clearly Adrienne really does care, because she starts all this passive-aggressive acting out. Stops turning in her homework. Wears black clothes and too much eyeliner. Drinks and smokes. Hangs around with Dakota's ex, Julian. Gets way too close to Julian, even though her boyfriend Lee seems to be a nice guy who treats her well. Even though Lee's mother upset his entire family by cheating on his father and Adrienne knows how hurtful her own cheating would be to Lee.
I started reading Then You Were Gone expecting suspense and a mystery, and instead found a book with more of a Bret Easton Ellis vibe -- a bunch of kids posing around in LA, acting too cool to care about some missing girl. Because life sucks and then it sucks some more. And yet, deep under the surface of all that languor, are feelings.
In the end, I really enjoyed Then You Were Gone. I can't say that I found it suspenseful or heart-wrenching, as promised in the blurb. I did find it beautifully written and quietly moving, and I will definitely check out Lauren Strasnick's other books.
On Thursday, I'm reviewing a book that did remind me of Thirteen Reasons Why, but wasn't compared to it in the blurb. Go figure.
Then You Were Gone will be up for grabs in my January Freebie Friday RAK Giveaway -- coming later this month!