Thrilling, Suspenseful, Confusing and Paranoid!
In what was one of the most thrilling and suspenseful, yet confusing and paranoid, reads of recent memory, 17 & Gone held me prisoner as its almost dream-like atmosphere blurred reality to a point of non-recognition. Shadowy figures, whispered voices and a feeling of desperation overwhelmed my senses in a cacophony of sight and sound, leaving me unable to trust anything – or anyone – Lauren encountered.
Easily the shining beacon of 17 & Gone was Suma’s ability to create a dark and haunting atmosphere, that when interspersed with a stream of consciousness-esque prose, created a dream-like quality to her writing. As Lauren’s thoughts flitted about, from concern over Abby’s whereabouts, to fascination concerning the other lost girls’ stories, to obsession with discovering the truth, you almost get the feeling that you are, in fact, dreaming. Nothing that Lauren experiences is solid enough for you to feel like it is based in reality, yet nothing is so far out there that you can’t believe it’s happening. Everything is written with a sense of fleetingness and fluidity, like that thought you can’t quite grasp, that makes it feel like at any moment you might lose the story completely and be left with nothing but the whispers of what once was. It made for such an interesting, if at times frustrating, read that I couldn’t have put 17 & Gone down if I had wanted to.
Much like Suma’s writing, Lauren also gave off an air of impermanence; she was so easily side-tracked by a whisper, or a shadow, that we didn’t get a good glimpse at who she was without the lost girls who served to define her. Actually, she mostly served as a vehicle for the stories of the lost girls, which meant much of her personality was hidden or obscured. There were glimpses at a a fierce and independent young woman,
"My legs walked me over to him. “Luke? Do you remember me? I’m Lauren. I’m – ”
“Jamie Rossi’s girlfriend,” he said, stopping me, like that’s how I’d introduce myself to someone, my identity in relation to a boy’s."
but mostly, we learned about the lost girls: Abby, Fiona, Natalie, Shyann, and so many others that it became, at times, tedious to hear their stories over and over. To be as lost as them, to wonder to why they were haunting Lauren and what they hoped to achieve by isolating her from her friends and family. They became the thing which defined Lauren, and without them, Lauren was (seemingly) nothing.
But part of the reason I enjoyed 17 & Gone so much, despite not truly connecting with Lauren, was because of its vagueness. 17 & Gone kept me in suspense for so much of the plot, leaving me questioning everything that was happening, that I couldn’t help but eagerly read on. As Suma delivered a slightly unexpected twist, I was thrilled to have continued reading because of her excellent handling of such a…sensitive topic. (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, so I apologize for my vagueness!) And paired with that ending, one that stays true to Lauren’s type of experience, I had to appreciate what Suma had managed to accomplish, all while keeping me mostly in the dark.
For fans of psychological thrillers, who won’t mind when the questions being answered aren’t necessarily the ones you hope to have answered (at least, not when you hope to have them answered), 17 & Gone will be an absolute delight. For people who appreciate concrete answers or plot-driven stories with definitive endings, you might want to think twice!