Sunday, March 17, 2013

Review: 17 & GONE By Nova Ren Suma

Seventeen-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.
Wow. I'm not entirely sure what to say about this book. I don't mean that in the way I've meant it about other books recently. Lately, "I don't know what to say" has become code for "This book made me squinch my nose in distaste" but not this time.

This time, "I don't know what to say" is code for three different things at once.

1. "I don't know what to say..." because the writing rocked my world.

I have a very hard time expressing myself after reading a book with beautiful prose. I had issues expressing myself after The Book Thief and Code Name Verity and other like books. Now, the two aforementioned books are on an untouchable plane as far as I'm concerned, but Ms. Suma certainly does give the prose in 17 & Gone her best shot.

The prose for 17 & Gone is haunting and atmospheric on a level that's hard to beat. It's slow and deep, like Hallowe'en fog creeping across a cemetery and seeping into the loamy soil. After such a sampling of prose, what can I say?

2. "I don't know what to say..." because it wasn't what I was expecting.

Who doesn't love a good paranormal mystery, really? I came to this book expecting to be creeped out. I expected heart-pounding action and twists! Then the story started, and I still expected all those things, but I added a good helping of The Sixth Sense vibes in the best possible way after missing girl Abby shows up in the backseat of Lauren's van. With one missing shoe, twigs in her hair, and skinned knees, Abby lets Lauren into her memories and shows her what happened the night Abby disappeared. That is, Abby shows Lauren everything except what actually happened to make her disappear. For that part, she needs Lauren's help. She wants to be found.

Me, a mere 20 pages in.
I never did get my heart-pounding action, but I didn't miss the lack of explosions and death-defying escapes. 17 & Gone is a slower, introspective book as befits its prose. However, though I was never scared, I never relaxed either. Bad things had happened, were happening and continued to happen, and there was no way to alter the course of Lauren's story for her. I didn't expect to be so tense despite the lack of flashy action.

I also didn't expect to become so invested. Part of the genius of Ms. Suma's prose is how quickly she was able to fix each girl in my head. I'm awful at remembering character names, at keeping rapidly introduced people apart, but in the middle of the book I paused and wrote everyone down, just to see if I could. And there they were - Abby the very first, Fiona the fiery, Natalie with the icy killer eyes, Shyann the bullied, Isabeth the rule-follower, Madison the model. On and on they came, at first slow and then one tumbling after another until they piled up on the page, all clamoring loudly for attention. All they wanted was to be noticed, to be found.

I wanted them to be found. I worried for them. I raged as parents, police, teachers, and friends shrugged off the disappearances as a fact of life. 17-year-old girls run away. They leave and don't look back. But, as Lauren learns, sometimes they don't leave by choice. Sometimes they're taken. Sometimes they're kept away. And yet no one seemed to care as these girls blinked out of existence.
I was 17. I was a girl. Didn't we matter?

3. "I don't know what to say..." because I can't give away the twist!

And the twist changes EVERYTHING, just as the synopsis promises. There I am, trucking along, when partway through I started to wonder... But no, that couldn't... Maybe... I started to doubt right along with Lauren. What was truth? What was a lie? What was happening here? The twist, in my opinion, takes a good story and bumps it up to great (of the this-will-win-awards variety).

I cannot say what the twist is, but it changes the entire tone of the book. It makes me remember the book and Lauren's story in a way that I may not have without it.

So truly, I don't know what to say. I have my reservations, as the book contains some objectionable content that was realistic but not enjoyable. However, if you enjoy beautiful, atmospheric prose, psychological tension, and a high but gorgeous creep factor, I can say that you should read 17 & Gone.

Points Added For: Gorgeous prose, keeping me on my toes, that twist that changes everything.

Points Subtracted For: Objectionable content that messed the book up for me personally.

Good For Fans Of: Slow, atmospheric prose; psychological twists; distorted reality.

Notes For Parents: Shoplifting (passing reference), making out, language, smoking, underage drinking, homosexuality.

Note: I won an ARC of this novel via LibraryThing from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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