Then You Were Gone falls into a subset of contemporary fiction I usually do not like one bit, though obviously I did not know this when I requested it. See, Then You Were Gone is about a whole bunch of poor little rich kids living super self-destructive lives because of neglectful parents and all of that jazz. It also features an MC who desperately wishes she could be like her former best friend, Dakota, who is made of magic and sex and rock star glimmer. Neither of these fairly oft-seen plots usually thrills me, but Strasnick's is the best instance of this plot line that I've ever read.
So many books about poor little rich kids spiraling out of control are melodramatic and with this totally bored air, as though they're too good to care about anything even though they're living these shiny lives of desparation. They're whiny and superior and do nothing with so much opportunity. I just find those books so frustrating most of the time.
What Strasnick does differently is the heroine's approach to everything. Where the heroines in such stories tend to lack self-awareness or pity themselves, Adrienne really does not. Adrienne knows she's messing up her life, and she knows there's no one else to place the blame on for that. Adrienne knows she's losing her grip, both in classes and in her romantic life, but cannot seem to stop herself. She has to find out what has happened to her former best friend, a search which leads to her failing even her best class and smoking like a chimney. In the search, she learns a lot about herself and her relationship with Dakota.
Now, even before Adrienne went off the rails after Dakota's disappearance, she and her friends were a whole bunch of hot messes. These kids go through life half-drunk. They throw big pot lucks and drink alcohol supplied by parents, who at least have the foresight to take all of the kids' car keys. At school lunches, they've sometimes sneaked in booze. Adrienne runs with the popular crowd, and that's just what they do, though when she starts slumming with the smokers her position in the A list is threatened.
This book, slight though it is, has plenty to scandalize and shock the reader, but Strasnick approaches these things in a very straightforward way. The writing fits the story well, fairly simple and to the point like Adrienne herself. Strasnick's treatment of her subjects kept the book from straying into some sort of sensationalized Gossip Girl kind of thing, and more of a dark look at real problems some teens have.
What Left Me Wanting More:
I would have liked to see a bit more character development throughout or perhaps have been more grounded in who Adrienne was before Dakota's disappearance. From the beginning of the book, Adrienne has already been thrown for a loop by Dakota leaving her a message before mysteriously disappearing. She's not herself, and this version of Adrienne, is distanced from everything, single-mindedly focused on figuring out what happened. As such, she's hard to emotionally connect with. Such a connection would have thrown her dark spiral into sharper relief.
The Final Verdict:
Then You Were Gone is a quick read that I found to be quite enjoyable and emotionally honest. Strasnick neither condones nor condemns the actions of her characters, and certainly does not romanticize their lifestyle. This novel is stark and dark, an excellent choice for mature teen readers. This was my first experience with Strasnick's work, but I do plan to read more of her work because of how good this is.