17 & Gone
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!
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.
Lauren sees girls who have gone missing. They are all 17 years old. As the story unfolds she collects more and more girls. All who have different personalities and different reasons for having gone missing. She wants to try to save them all and help them find their way home to their families.
The first night I starting reading 17 & Gone I had strange dreams. When I got in my car in the morning I had no desire to look in my review mirror. This is a testament to Nova Ren Suma's writing skills. The way she beautifully describes everything almost like painting a picture in your mind left me scared and fascinated. There were times that this book got a tad slow for me but it did not make me put it down.
17 & Gone touches on a couple of very real issues. Both of which I think were very well done. First we have all the missing girls and the fact that many children go missing everyday. As a single mother to a 12 year old this is one of my biggest fears and one that crossed my mind more than once while reading this book. Especially when Lauren is reading the missing persons posters for the girls who have gone. The second issue that this book touches on is equally well written and researched. I don't want to give anything away so you will just have to read to find out.
This was my first time reading a book by this author and it will not be my last. Suma has a way of making you feel like you are right there in the story. She paints a very clear picture. Suma is an amazing storyteller and 17 & Gone is a beautifully, creepy story.