Flawless mystery novel
There are some novels where everything comes together, the stars align, and you get butterflies in your stomach within a chapter, and by the end…well, by the end you’re halfway to Vegas for a drive-in wedding and honeymoon in the casinos. For me, 17 & Gone was exactly like that. It’s a book I loved for the entirety of the story, that never let me down, and is so worth taking the time to read. I enjoyed this about 20 times more than Imaginary Girls (which, by the way, I liked a lot).
Though 17 & Gone is a departure from the magical realism that defined Suma’s sophomore novel, one thing that’s still very present—and improved on—was this author’s prose. I mean, just…wow. Even though I consider characterization to be the #1 most important thing for me in a book, I would be lying if I said quality writing isn’t just as important. Writing is the glue that holds a story together, the backbone without which everything would be a mess. And the backbone in this book is, quite simply, impressive. Many, many sticky notes were used (even though this is a library book, so I have to take them out again).
The story is at once surreal yet dark and realistic. At first there’s only one girl haunting Lauren: Abby Sinclair. Endangered runaway, 17 years old. But then there’s another, and another, and another. Soon Lauren’s got a gaggle of missing girls invading her life, and things are spiraling out of control. She’s drawn to them, guided by some mysterious presence in her life that she can’t begin to explain.
“To know a girl was one, I had to sense it. Something would compel me to stop over a certain page online or in the newspaper microfiche in the library. There’d be a humming in my ears, a chorus strengthened by a new, added voice. [...] The edges of the room would swim with shadows, and those shadows had arms and a legs and mouths that opened.” (pg. 126)
And Lauren decides that these girls, who are missing without a trace—she decides she has to help them. Somehow, she has to help them complete whatever unfinished tasks they left behind. It’s why they’ve come to her, after all. Isn’t it?
As a character, I think Lauren was a bit standoffish, but that wasn’t a bad thing at all in this case. The effect the girls’ visitations had on her was superbly well-done, and I Lauren’s reactions to various situations felt very real to me. The secondary characters, also, were well-done, though they played very minor roles in the story. Lauren’s boyfriend Jamie and her mother, for instance, barely had any stage time, but their sometimes awkward but always well-intentioned support of Lauren was fantastic, both for her, and for the reader. It was great to see that even if she felt completely alone, stuck with her ghosts and her dreams, Lauren had help, if only she could learn to accept it.
The thing with 17 & Gone is that it took me completely by surprise. I thought it was about a girl who saw ghosts, and that’s sort of what it is. But this book is more, and I was honestly surprised by the twist at the end (which maybe wasn’t a twist, per se). I can’t give away why I loved this book so much without verging into spoiler territory, but seriously. The last 100 pages were absolutely flawless for me.
17 & Gone is a mystery novel that’s not quite mystery, and paranormal that’s not quite paranormal. This was surprising and wonderfully dark. Suma’s prose was lush and elegant, and the subtle plot was absorbing from the first page to the last.