Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Since You've Been Gone by Mary Jennifer Payne--This New Novel Will Be Released January 24, 2015!

Pages: 224. Publisher: Dundurn (February 17,
2014); Language: English; ISBN-10:
1459728181; ISBN-13: 978-1459728189. [1]
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     Can a horse really jump the distance of a city block? No, you say. What about an man who doesn't age and sees generations come and go? The Fountain of Youth, you say! Hmm. Well, what about a secret city existing that isn't on any map and you can't get there unless you are a resident of the city? The North Pole? Yes, well, maybe; many children believe there's a North Pole. These examples are all elements of a famous novel by Mark Helprin, called Winter's Tale. I reviewed that book in January (2014), and if you want to look in more detail at these fantastical elements, click here. And while, Since You've Been Gone, may not have flying horses, ageless characters, or secret cities, it does have some elements requiring the reader's suspension of disbelief.

     Both Mark Helprin and Mary Jennifer Payne include elements to their stories requiring the reader to engage in a willing suspension of disbelief. So why do writers like Helprin and Payne utilize these elements if people don't believe them?

     Winter's Tale, for example, is from the genre of magical realism where these kind of weird elements are utilized. Other genres where you may find weird stuff include gothic literature, science fiction, fantasy, poetry, and sometimes romanticism. Yes, but why do authors use this weird stuff? Well, the answer is really quite simple. They use these fantastical elements because when you enter the story, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined the phrase, you enter with a "willing suspension of disbelief." All this means is that when you start reading a book, or walk into a movie theater, you willingly set aside doubt or skepticism all for the sake of enjoying a good story. [2] 

     Before I get any more into why I started out today's post with a discussion of "suspension of disbelief," let me give the the synopsis of the book we'll be looking at, today. That book is Mary Jennifer Payne's new book, Since You've Been Gone.

A funny example of "suspension of disbelief." [4]
     Edie's mother is late getting home and fifteen-year-old Edie sits looking out the window at a frozen landscape, fidgeting and worrying about her mother. Edie suddenly gets a mysterious call from her mother asking Edie to pack one bag and meet her in the drive-way. They've got to run! Edie is suddenly scared and angry--she must leave her pet cat, Peaches behind. Edie also worries about not being able to tell her friend she is leaving without saying goodbye--Edie will just disappear, and her friend won't know why or where she's gone.

London, England. [5]
     Having fled from Toronto, Canada, and a day later, in England, Edie wakes up and wonders what happened to her cat, Peaches, since she left. She demands to know from her mother what she did with Peaches; Edie learns the indoor cat was left on the frozen porch with a bowl of cat food. While Edie knows her mother is trying, Edie is still angry and upset. Edie also wants to know if "he" will find them, here, in London.

     Two women on the run, fifteen-year-old, Edie, and Sydney, her mother, flee from an unknown terror. Edie's mother takes a night job as a cleaner in an office building, and when Edie's mother fails to return home, Edie is left bereft. With no money for food or transportation, and no one to care for her, Edie feels lost and adrift.

     Days later, Edie's mother still has not returned to their apartment. Edie tries to follow her own "normal" activities of going to school, but she is quickly targeted and bullied by female school bullies. Edie knows she will have to confront the bullies sooner or later if she is to find any peace. Now, at her wits end, without her mother or money, she does something that could land her in jail. But will Edie's new found friends be able to help her? Will Edie be able to solve the mystery about what happened to her mother? Will she ever find her?

     In a series of events that leaves Edie fleeing from not only the mysterious stranger, but also the police, Edie puts it all on the line in an incredible effort to solve the mystery of her mother's disappearance. But the real question is, will Edie's past catch up with her before she is able to solve the mystery?

     While I liked many things about this book, without a doubt, I most loved the exciting opening of the novel. It grabbed me. Edie, our protagonist, in the very first sentence, tells us that today she punched Ranice in the face. Edie muses on being in trouble with her mom; idly, Edie looks out the window to a frozen, snowy, Canadian landscape and worries about her mom being so late getting home.

     "BAM." The second punch connects. The phone rings and both Edie and her cat jump in surprise; Edie answers the phone and her mom, breathing heavily and frantically, tells her that she needs to pack a bag as quickly as she can. Sydney, Edie's mom, tells her she'll be home in fifteen minutes to pick her up--and insists that Edie not answer the door for anyone.

    Holy mackerel! What a great opening! Of course, author, Mary Jennifer Payne, tells it much better than my poor summation of the few opening paragraphs.

     The book continues to balance suspense with action, pacing the reveals to keep the reader on the edge of the seat. I enjoyed the read from the first word to the last period. While this book is targeted to teens, eighth grade and up, I would say that the writing would also appeal to adults, as well. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I would definitely read future books written by this author.

     And finally, Payne's novel, Since You've Been Gone, is a quick read, and while it tends to be realistic, it has those elements I mentioned, above, requiring the willing suspension of disbelief. Looking at the series of implausible sequence of events, one would at some point, realize that just far too many coincidences have occurred. The plot becomes one in which the story arc approaches implausibility. Eventually, the reader must reach the point of disbelief and then suspend that disbelief. This scenario is unlikely, however, since most readers, when picking up a novel, have already adopted the mindset in which they have decided, albeit, subconsciously, to enjoy the book and adopt the author's ground rules for the world in which they find themselves. They, in effect, have adopted the willing suspension of disbelief already, even before they have picked up the book.

     A similar event occurs when viewing a television show, movie, or other work of fiction. Having been conditioned by society, readers readily adopt this suspension of their disbelief. If, however, the author crafts their work very poorly then all bets are off.

     For example, in a sci-fi movie where CGI is heavily used to the extent that the CGI images look fake, then that suspension of disbelief is out the window. It's almost like waving a red flag in the middle of a scene--it is DISTRACTING to the reader (or viewer) to the point the reader is pulled back to "reality" and out of the author's created world.

     One genre particularly hard on authors in this regard is the genre of "militaristic sci-fi." Avid readers of this genre don't mind fantastically created monsters, aliens, space ships, and any manner of armament, but if the author incorrectly reflects the life of the military man--the novel tends to be panned. [See my post of: Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos (03-30-14).]

     I have to admit that some of the writing came across as a bit choppy. Sometimes the character, Edie, seemed heartless or oblivious to other's feelings or motivations. I don't believe that is truly a bad thing. Teens are NOT adults, with adult reasoning, nor do they have adult actions or behaviors. We shouldn't expect that either, from Edie, just because she's the heroine of the story. Teens can be "heartless" sometimes. I don't expect the author to turn a blind eye to what teens face in open society.

     I also don't think that finding out what happens to Edie's mom--late in the book--is necessarily a bad thing, either. Readers don't always get to know what they want to know when they want to know it. The writing technique is utilized to build suspense and create tension. I think, whether or not you like or dislike this book might be dependent upon whether or not you allow yourself to go along for the ride. Are you enjoying the story or trying to analyze every paragraph and sentence looking for flaws? It all depends on what you want to get out of a book.


     No, I do not believe every bad book should be accepted as good by merely suspending your disbelief. I do think there is a place for the willing suspension of disbelief in reading a book, however. Have you ever heard about stopping and smelling the roses? How about just enjoying something just for the sake of it?

     This book's target audience, as I mentioned, above, is for eighth-grade readers and older. Since this book is for teen audiences, I would say, generally, the book is appropriate for that age group. As always, for anyone who has a sensitive nature, or is younger than the target audience, consideration must be given to the material before reading. The novel does cover kidnapping, murder, abuse, fear, and (potential) molestation. I don't recall any bad language in the novel, making it appropriate for the target group.

     Given my reasons, above, the negative and the positive, and my thorough enjoyment of this YA novel, by this wonderful author, Mary Jennifer Payne, I have no qualms about awarding this book 4.0 stars out of 5. I would read the book again, and would recommend it to others. I think this novel has the potential to reach teens who are struggling to find their way in the world, especially when facing isolation, those who have to move frequently, abuse within the family, those who know or know of the murder of a friend or family member, or those who simply struggle to be accepted. I believe this novel will also appeal to readers of contemporary stories about teens leading a troubled life. I applaud Ms. Payne's novel.

     Thank you for joining me today, as we were privileged to look at Mary Jennifer Payne's wonderful new novel, to be released on January 24, 2015. Please join me next week as I pick up another book in which we can have a bit of enjoyment looking at it. Thank you for taking time to read my blog post, this week. I always appreciate your consideration of my ideas and comments. Do take some time this week to read a little bit. Most likely, you will have a few days off over the Christmas holidays, so pick up a book and give it a try.

Until next week...
This flower is a double white Rose of Sharon. [13]
...many happy pages of reading.

God bless you this holiday season, and

Merry Christmas.

All my love,

[1] "Since You've Been Gone." amazon.com. Retrieved 12-17-14.
[2] "Suspension of Disbelief - Definition." shmoop.com. Retrieved 12-18-14.
[3] "Winter's Tale." [hardcover/paperback ed.] smile.amazon.com. Retrieved 12-18-14.
[4] "Dip that pen, Shake that speare." dipthatpen.tumblr.com. Retrieved 12-18-14.
[5] "Rail Europe." [London, England] raileurope.com. Retrieved 12-18-14.
[6] "Dedicated to Locating Missing Persons." missingpersoninvestigators.com. Retrieved 12-18-14.
[7] "The Forgotten Genius of Henry Hoke." thesecondsight.blogspot.com. Retrieved 12-22-14.
[8] "War Stories: Modern Military Science Fiction." kickstarter.com. Retrieved 12-23-14.
[9] "Quotes Picture by Tanya Christine Jaeger." inspirably.com. Retrieved 12-23-14.
[10] "Stop and Smell the Roses No, Really!" easytogrowblog.com. Retrieved 12-23-14.
[11] "Review: The Wolf of Wall Street." cinedork.com. Retrieved 12-23-14.
[12] "Thank You, Thank You, Thank You." herhighheels.blogspot.com. Retrieved 12-23-14.
[13] "Pictures From My Garden." sparkpeople.com. Retrieved 12-23-14.