Tuesday, March 12, 2013

17 & Gone by Nova Ren Suma

Title: 17 & Gone
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Release Date: March 21, 2013
Pages: 320 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC won in a giveaway held by the author
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: book-related Pinterest board | book trailer | author website

17 & GoneSeventeen-year-old Lauren is having visions of girls who have gone missing. And all these girls have just one thing in common—they are 17 and gone without a trace. As Lauren struggles to shake these waking nightmares, impossible questions demand urgent answers: Why are the girls speaking to Lauren? How can she help them? And… is she next? As Lauren searches for clues, everything begins to unravel, and when a brush with death lands her in the hospital, a shocking truth emerges, changing everything.

With complexity and richness, Nova Ren Suma serves up a beautiful, visual, fresh interpretation of what it means to be lost.


Winning an ARC of this book made my week when it happened. I was sick with an upper respiratory infection, dealing with pains in my side I feared were appendicitis (they weren't, thank goodness), my parents had driven six hours that morning to get from home to my college campus in order to get me to a doctor, and I felt miserable. When I checked my email on September 10, 2012 and saw I'd won a signed copy of one of my most anticipated reads of 2013, written by one of my favorite authors, everything seemed better. When it arrived, I couldn't stop jumping around like an idiot and squeeing at the top of my lungs--in the laundry room. The very public laundry room.

Was 17 & Gone ultimately worth that level of excitement?

Well...Not quite, I'm sad to say.

The writing is fabulously creepy and creates a very intense, surreal, and absorbing atmosphere that made quitting difficult. (Yeah, I kind of wanted to skip my very important math test to keep reading this. That's how addictive it can be.) I've come to expect nothing less than literary chic from this author's novels after Imaginary Girls and I was not disappointed in the least. The standard metaphor of ghosts = being haunted by something from your past is here, but there are others present as well--like what the lost girls represent in relation to Lauren herself. In the respect of being a character-driven novel about Lauren's obsession with the lost girls, 17 & Gone is very strong.

As Lauren narrates and reflects on her experiences in this novel, we are told her life is falling apart--and as the novel goes on, shown it too. The impact of her obsession and what it takes from her is supposed to be great, but readers don't get a strong sense of everything the lost girls haunting her cost her. There are few peeks at who she was and what her life was like before the visions and obsessions began; the story begins at the very moment her obsession and the visions start. How are we supposed to appreciate her experience if we have no idea what changed? It's like how we as human beings don't truly appreciate the good in life until we experience the bad.

Moreover, Lauren serves more as a vehicle for the stories of the lost girls than as an individual character. We don't get much of a sense of who she is or her personality. We know of her obsession and that she is/was close with her mother, and that's about it. The rest of the story is that of the lost girls, spoken through Lauren's mouth as if she were a medium. She is truly a character defined by her obsession because without it, there is nothing one can say about her.

Speaking of the characters, fellow fans of Imaginary Girls may feel like Fiona Burke, one of the lost girls, reminds them of a certain older sister who has everyone wrapped around her finger. Loved it!

At times, the novel can also be a little aimless. As Lauren collects more lost girls in the smoke-and-fire house within her dreams, the big plotline that Abby is most likely still alive and needs help is almost completely brought to a halt. The mystery of where Abby is and what happened to her is not quite as strongly written; a strong hint dropped early on makes it clear, but it's brought up only twice more throughout the novel. One of those occasions happens halfway through the novel; the other one is during the climactic scene. This is much stronger as a character-driven novel than as a mystery-driven or plot-driven novel.

So 17 & Gone was a small misstep, but Nova Ren Suma remains one of my favorite authors and any books she publishes in the future are insta-buys. Perhaps fellow NRS fans will love this more than I did, but one thing is for sure: none of those fans are getting my copy. It's signed and beautiful and perfect and MINE.

3.5 stars!

What am I reading next?: Sweet Evil by Wendy Higgins