Like you, I was very impressed with 17 & Gone. It managed to keep surprising me throughout. Early on, I made a note that said, “Interesting new take on the ‘dead girl narrator’ genre.” But, no, it was so not that, and so much more than that. Then, for a while, I thought it was more of a mystery–a story about what happened to the missing girls. But again, it wasn’t exactly that, and it was so much more than that.
I really was not expecting the descent into psychosis, and I thought Suma treated it so carefully, and so beautifully. Watching Lauren struggle with her own perceptions was harrowing. She knew what she was seeing and hearing, but she also knew that there was somehow something wrong with it. I loved the way that even with Lauren as narrator, some things were hidden from us: we learn of her trip to see Abby’s grandparents, for example, but not (until the end) about all the letters she writes to the other families. Was she somehow hiding that even from herself? Did she realize that doing that made her a bit crazy, and she wasn’t willing to admit that?
I was thinking about the characters of Lauren’s boyfriend Jamie and Lauren’s mother. The mother was an intriguing character, with her past, her tattoos (which played such an interesting part in Lauren’s thoughts about her), and, of course, her study of psychology. We sometimes see portrayals of evil characters who are well aware of the psychology behind their actions, but not so often a character like Lauren, who knows just enough to sometimes hide what she is thinking and feeling, knowing how her mother–or the doctors–will interpret it. I also found it heart-wrenching when Lauren’s mother, who has posited her whole relationship with her daughter on trust, is stricken with uncertainty about how to deal with her when she starts acting strangely.
Jamie is one character I would like to have known just a bit more about. He’s so solid, and so caring and loving to Lauren, and I loved that about him. Perhaps it would have been too much to have delved into how he was dealing with her reality–and certainly, since the story was told from Lauren’s perspective, it wouldn’t really have been appropriate–but I just kind of wanted a little more Jamie in the story.
And then there’s the ending, where some things are settled, but others, particularly the whole Fiona situation, are left ambiguous. We’ve talked about ambiguous endings before, and I know that unlike many readers, you and I can both find them satisfying. I thought the ambiguities of the ending of 17 & Gone were masterful. Lauren herself says that it is too early even for a diagnosis, and while she talks about getting better, she also talks about the fact that Fiona is always going to be there. Those last few pages were beautiful, heartbreaking, and really, really scary.
So much to discuss in this book, and I look forward to its publication next month when more readers will have a chance to read and discuss it. If this is a good example of what we’re going to see in 2013, it could be quite an exciting year.