Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Fantastic fellow YA author Nova Ren Suma is celebrating the imminent release of her new novel 17 & GONE this week, and so has asked any number of her writerly friends to . . .  well, let’s let her tell us. She explains.
If Nova had asked what haunted me at 13, you’d get a ghost story. It would feature my late grandfather visiting me during my dreams and my waking hours, sometimes carrying his own head, usually smiling, and once looking at me as he stood above the bed with such scorn and disappointment that I closed my eyes and screamed until he was gone.
If Nova had asked what haunted me at 4, you’d get a story about a funny-smelling basement, a short-lived daycare center, and vague shadows on the faces of strange children and stranger adults.
But Nova asked what haunted me at 17, and there’s nothing vulgar or supernatural about it. At 17 I was haunted all day, every day. Fear crawled over every inch of body, inside and out, like tiny spiders tickling my soul, nibbling at my skin, devouring my heart.

Steve at 17

I might be overstating it, but only a little, and apologies for how emo we got there in the last paragraph for a minute. The point is, I wasn’t haunted by ghosts, and I wasn’t haunted by stranger-danger. I wasn’t haunted by anything so definable and tangible (is a ghost tangible? Grandpa seemed tangible) and defeatable. I was haunted instead by an impossible future.
This haunts everyone at 17, I suppose—anyway everyone I knew at 17, I realize now. It’s a rare and special adolescent who sees the mystery of adulthood and freedom and self-reliance and responsibility looming like the exit in a ¼ mile on the LIE that you have to get into the right lane for right now, and is not overcome with constant low-level anxiety and downright fear. I suppose this is why I find young adult fiction so compelling: it’s the time in our lives that seems so crucial, so particularly relevant, to what kind of child we’ve been, to what kind of adult we’ll become, to how we’ll turn our backs on those things and people that don’t fit our ideas about life and goodness, and how we’ll overcome the ones that stand in our way. The freedom of majority age and leaving home brings with it more than non-curfew and legally purchased cigarettes and voting and the open road and a place of our own; it also brings a new form of socialization, in which the walls of our school and the people within are no longer our only recourse. We move freely in the world, and we associate with whomever we like.
It’s exciting, of course, but it’s also terrifying. The rules will change. They’ll be malleable and unclear for many years—more years than we ever imagined as we grew up, watching our parents engage in this world beyond school. People often say, “If I only knew then what I know now,” the implication being that their younger days would have been easier and more easily navigable with the wisdom of their later years. Short of winning lottery numbers, though, I disagree. If I’d known at 17 what I know now—about how little guidance we really have as adults, how unclear it is whether we’re really adults at all and why, about the vagueness of expectations placed on us—I’d have been positively terrified and frozen.
So here's the irony. As teens, my friends and I fought back the fear with two substances, for the most part, as often as we could get away with it. We drank on weekends, smoked on weekdays and weeknights, and kept ourselves as comfortably numb as we could. But these things did nothing to slow the onset of the future; that's always coming at you, no matter what you do. No, these things instead removed the only thing we actually had, the only thing we could actually take part in, affect, and to some degree control: the present.
Yeah, so. Happy release day, 17 & GONE!