The Pre-Sloane Emily didn't go to parties, she barely talked to guys, she didn't do anything crazy. Enter Sloane, social tornado and the best kind of best friend—the one who yanks you out of your shell. 

But right before what should have been an epic summer, Sloane just… disappears. No note. No calls. No texts. No Sloane. There’s just a random to-do list. On it, thirteen Sloane-selected-definitely-bizarre-tasks that Emily would never try… unless they could lead back to her best friend.

Apple Picking at Night? Okay, easy enough.

Dance until Dawn? Sure. Why not?

Kiss a Stranger? Um....

Getting through Sloane’s list would mean a lot of firsts. But Emily has this whole unexpected summer ahead of her, and the help of Frank Porter (totally unexpected) to check things off. Who knows what she’ll find?

Go Skinny Dipping? Wait... what?

The true measure of this kind of a contemporary novel is that it can make you smile even when you're truly, truly sad.

This novel made me smile when I was truly, truly sad.

(And yes, it has playlists, bucket lists and an occasional letter. The Morgan Matson additions to the conventional novel format are beautiful and motivational.)

Having previously read, worshiped and fallen in love with Amy and Roger's Epic Detour, my second foray into Morgan Matson's work wasn't without its share of expectations.

I expected this novel to be immersive. 
It was.
I expected it to be interactive. 
It was.
I expected to become the protagonist for a little while. 
I did.
I expected to learn something about myself. 
I did.
And I expected it to prompt me to go out and do things
It did.

What I hadn't expected was that a novel about staying in one place can convey just as many truths about the world (and as many about ourselves) as a road trip themed one can. 

For the first time in a long time, Emily Hughes finds herself experiencing - or rather not experiencing - a summer alone. The go-getting half of the usual friendship duo, Sloane Williams, has disappeared without a word. Without Sloane's schemes, plans and her easy way of finding adventure even in the most mundane of places, Emily is not only lonely, but also out of things to do and places to be.

"I was just not used to having to do things like this on my own. It had been me and Sloane, joined at the hip for the last two years, and she was so good at this kind of stuff - utterly fearless about walking into places she hadn't been before, or talking to people she didn't know - that any skill I might once had had in that department had withered away, since I knew Sloane would lead the way."

Until, that is, a bucket list arrives in the mail. This is not the first list of the kind that Emily has received from Sloane. But it is certainly the most comprehensive, and the most daring. In all her social awkwardness, Emily would never consider half the things on the list - were it not for her inherent belief that completing the list would reunite her with Sloane.

"In that moment, it had been enough to know that she had send me something, that she wasn't just going to disappear and leave me with nothing but questions and memories."

But a pursuit of the thirteen Sloane-approved challenges proves to be easier and harder than Emily could ever have imagined. Easier, because - as it turns out - a little help from (a) friend(s) goes a long way. Harder, because somewhere along the way, it has become about Emily far more than it has about Sloane. And with a life to rebuild and new friendships to preserve, Emily begins to learn just how capable she really is - and that the measure of true friendship is not so much in constant reliance on one another as it is the knowledge that the other will be there no matter what.

“Real friends are the ones you can count on no matter what. The ones who go into the forest to find you and bring you home. And real friends never have to tell you that they’re your friends.” 

But Sloane hasn't been there all summer. And what does this say about their friendship?

From stranger-hugging to indoor camping, Since You've Been Gone is a quintessential Morgan Matson novel in all the best ways. From the importance of friendship to the essence of family life, it deconstructs the coming-of-age phenomenon and makes it a little less scary, and a lot more exciting than it might have seemed at a distance.

It is a novel hard to get through only because it makes us want to do rather than read about doing and/or contemplate doing. It makes us want to face our fears, to make fools of ourselves, to fall, to get up, to dust off, to get back on that (metaphorical, but possibly literal) horse and try, and try again, and do better, until doing is natural and we have infected others with doing, too.

In a well-ordered universe, Morgan Matson novels would be on required reading lists in schools. And in a well-ordered universe, students would love those required reading lists.

Now who's going to make me a bucket list?

Really, though. If you feel like leaving bucket lists, comments, sharing your impressions or just swooning over Morgan Matson's talent in general, feel free to leave a comment below. We'd love to hear from you. If you're still the post-Sloane, pre-self-discovery Emily and don't quite feel like socializing much... well, you should still do it. But you can also find us on all manner of social media below and follow us quietly. We promise to do our best to inspire a good sort of change in you somewhere along the way. And you will very likely do the same for us.