confessions / memories

Nina LaCour: Haunted at 17


My new novel, 17 & Gone, is now out in stores (!!!), and to mark the release of this story about a 17-year-old girl haunted by the missing, I’ve asked some authors I know to join me in answering this question… What haunted YOU at 17? Here’s Nina LaCour revealing the paralyzing fear she faced the year she was 17 years old…

Guest post by Nina LaCour


(Nina LaCour at 17. Photo taken in her old bedroom in her parents’ old apartment.)

When I was seventeen, I was haunted by two versions of myself: the one I had been throughout high school and the one I wanted to be. Even though I had lived in the same town all my life and had known most of the kids since kindergarten, I never felt like I fit in. The people in the town belonged to the country club; they drove expensive cars; they lived either in sprawling ranch houses or in multi-story, newly built ones with high ceilings and swimming pools. The adults were tight-knit and gregarious. The kids were athletic and studious.

My parents and I did, and were, none of these things.

My mom and dad had plenty of friends, but they all lived other places. When I was a little kid their car was so old that my mom had to drive on the shoulder of the road when going up the hill that led to the public transit parking lot. We lived in an apartment on the main street. I had a paralyzing fear of team sports, never tried too hard in school, and, though I genuinely liked many of the kids I grew up with, often felt like a slightly different species among them.

I was lucky in many respects growing up, and perhaps the greatest respect was this: every day when I got home from school, I felt like I belonged. In the apartment, we listened to loud music, we danced around the living room, we sang as we cooked dinner. At the table every evening we had good conversations and every night when I went to sleep, I felt safe and I felt loved. We may not have had a nice, big house, but it was the best home.

But I was seventeen and high school was over and I craved a bigger space in which to belong. My parents’ apartment just wasn’t enough. My best friend moved away for school, but I was staying in the Bay Area to go to San Francisco State University, a commuter school with dorms for only a tiny percentage of the student body. Throughout the summer months between high school and college, I dreamed of the way I would belong in San Francisco. I had fantasies of sitting in crowded dorm rooms, talking and laughing late into the night with interesting people who were glad to have me as a friend. All of the self-consciousness I felt growing up, all of the out-of-placeness, would simply slip away and there I would be: a part of something.

I was placed on the waiting list for the dorms. I ultimately got a spot, but I had to move in a couple weeks later than everyone else. I told myself that it was those couple of weeks that screwed me.

I missed all of the beginnings: move-in day, orientations, freshman breakfast, movie night. I missed the first night of eating in the dining hall and the first morning in the big communal bathroom. Who knows what else I missed? I wasn’t there; I’ll never know.

What I do know is that after my parents finished helping me unpack, and my mother made my bed for me and cried and cried before setting out on the thirty-mile drive back home, I sat in my dorm room and I felt, once again, out of place. It wasn’t better than high school at all, and I was so shy and so paralyzed by who I wanted to be and how badly I wanted to fit in, that after a few unsuccessful attempts at making friends with the girl across the hall with the Betty Page hair and the job at Urban Outfitters, I avoided the dining hall at all costs and slipped away over the weekends, back to the suburbs, back to the warm apartment with its carpeted floors and my singing, dancing, cooking parents and my cute little brother who was always thrilled to see me come home.

I got out of the dorms as soon as I could, and slowly, over the next two years, I found friends to laugh with late at night, an apartment with a roof view of the Golden Gate Bridge, a handful of roommates, a girlfriend I couldn’t stop kissing, places to hang out all over campus, favorite cafes all over the city.

But none of that happened while I was still seventeen. All of that would come later.

The Disenchantments

Nina LaCour is the award-winning author of Hold Still and The Disenchantments. Her third novel will be out in 2014. She lives with her wife in Oakland, CA.

Find her online at

Follow @nina_lacour on Twitter.


Don’t miss the other posts in the series. Throughout the week, more YA authors will reveal what haunted them at 17. Here are the Haunted at 17 posts so far…

Feel inspired and want to share what haunted you at 17? If you write a post on your blog, leave a link or tweet it to me. I’ll send you some 17 & Gone swag if you’d like it, and I’ll be featuring all the posts in a round-up when the week is over, on Monday!

You don’t have to be a writer to take part in this. All you have to be is someone who was once 17.


Want to win a signed hardcover of 17 & Gone, some swag, and a signed hardcover of Imaginary Girls to keep it company? Every commenter on this Haunted at 17 post will be entered to win. You can also enter by filling out this entry form.

The giveaway is international. Closes 11:59 p.m. EST on Thursday, March 28. Two winners will be chosen.

 17 & GONE NEWS:

  • 17&Gone_thumbIf you’ll be in New York City for the NYC Teen Author Festival, come see me and get a signed copy of the book! Full schedule here—look out for me TONIGHT, Friday, March 22, at the Union Square Barnes & Noble or Saturday, March 23 at McNally Jackson or Sunday, March 24 at Books of Wonder!
  • The 17 & Gone Blog Tour is all about the images from my Pinterest inspiration board that I made while writing the book. The latest stop at the Mod Podge Bookshelf features an image that makes me think of an integral character in the story: Fiona Burke.
  • Kristina Perez has interviewed me for her Madeleine Project. Come find out my answers to some of the most important questions.
  • If you’re an artist or writer trying to piece together some kind of creative life, read my interview on Realizing Your Creative Life about growing as a writer and being vulnerable.
  • If you’ve pre-ordered 17 & Gone or plan to buy it this week (thank you so much for your support! it means the world to me!) and can’t be in New York City to get it signed, I have a way to sign your book from afar. Leave a comment on this photo on my Facebook author page and I may just mail you a signed and personalized bookplate.


What haunted Andrea Cremer at 17?

2 thoughts on “Nina LaCour: Haunted at 17

  1. It’s so awesome to read about a teen who had a wonderful family life, with supportive parents where she felt she belonged:)

    Thank you:)

    ccfioriole at gmail dot com

  2. What an uplifting post. It’s great to hear she had support. Not everyone has a support group. I love hearing that things turned out well in the end.

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