Robin Wasserman: 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 Robin Wasserman revealing some shocking photos that will show the world what haunted her when she was 17 years old…

Guest post by Robin Wasserman

I’ve never been the kind of person who believes in ghosts, and by the time I hit seventeen, I’d conquered or outgrown (or, in the case of the junior-high-school bully who mercifully dropped out after ninth grade, outlasted) most of the things that used to keep me awake at night: fear of fire, fear of kidnapping, fear of food fights (don’t ask)—I’d even managed to put the fear of loneliness at bay, after finally making a few for-real, for-life friends.

So most of what haunted my nightmares (and frequent schooltime naps) that year was the fear—okay, call it abject terror—that I wouldn’t get into the college I wanted, or wouldn’t get into any college at all, or would be a failure at life and end up living out my days in my parents’ basement…you get the idea. A lot of time was spent studying for the SATs and pouring through “How to get into college” books and scribbling “Brown” and “Yale” in my notebooks the way other people scribbled the names of their beloved. There may have been little pink hearts involved, and a lot of creative visualization involving fat envelopes and mailboxes. None of it’s that interesting and I’ve already written more about it than anyone could ever want to read (including a whole vaguely autobiographical novel, if you find yourself that curious). So I’m not going to write about that today.

I’m going to write about the other thing that haunted me, if by haunted you mean occupied my ever waking thoughts and tormented me with thoughts of what-might-have-been and terrors of what-could-become.

That thing is: My hair.

Anyone who talks to me for more than, say, twenty minutes, will notice that I’m extremely, some might say exceedingly, vain about my hair. Which is embarrassing. Not to mention weird, since I’m the kind of person who’s usually too lazy to wear makeup and has been known to occasionally forget she’s wearing pajamas when she leaves the apartment.

What you wouldn’t know, if you’ve only known me for twenty minutes (although give me the slightest opening and another couple hours and you’ll soon learn more than you ever wanted to know on the subject), is that my obsession with my hair has spanned thirty years and most of those were spent in such cringe-worthy, camera-breaking, Cousin-It-resembling hair hell that I don’t think you could blame me if I spent all my time now gazing in the mirror thanking the universe that I finally conquered my demons.

(You think I’m exaggerating. But wait, there will be pictures. )

I was blissfully unaware of the problem until age five, when, blithely wandering through an apartment building with my traditional summer bowl cut, I got the well-meaning compliment no girl wants to hear: “What an adorable little boy!”

So much for the bowl cut.

Robin Wasserman photo 1

I spent the fourteen years after that growing out my hair into an indescribably hideous nest of curls, desperately trying to turn my hair into the kind of hair I saw on TV and, as far as I could tell, on the head of every single popular girl in the history of popular girls: long, silky, and (with a few impossibly un-frizzy exceptions) straight. I brought in magazine clippings for a long series of beleaguered hairdressers; I tried every anti-frizz product on the shelf. I poured over Sassy and Seventeen and YM, desperate for hair-straightening techniques, none of which worked. I sat for innumerable bad pictures and cringed every time I saw myself on the home video screen.

Then there was the hat phase.

Robin Wasserman photo 2

The less said about that, the better.

I got the obligatory junior high nickname (“afro girl”); I got jealous at every sleepover party while the other girls combed and crimped and French braided and I sat against a wall reading a book. I got knots. Lots of knots, and occasionally, I got them cut out.

(This poor girl is about to face her first ever game of Spin the Bottle. Pray for her.)
(This poor girl is about to face her first-ever game of Spin the Bottle. Pray for her.)

I got increasingly convinced that my hair was at the root of all my problems.

That if I could just make my hair better, make it right, everything else would follow. I’d get popular. I’d get a boyfriend. I’d get everything I wanted in life, everything that seemed to come so easily to everyone else.

I now think that everyone had something like this, some scapegoat for all their problems—If only I were skinnier, If only I were taller, If only I had bigger boobs or a smaller nose or clearer skin or straighter teeth—and we all conveniently ignore the fact that there are plenty of people with smaller boobs or bigger noses or more zits who are also making out with their boyfriends at every party in town. The only other girl in my school with hair precisely as crappy as mine had about a million friends and was a varsity athlete, but this is something I chose to ignore. Because I needed to believe there was something that would be an easy fix, even if—maybe especially if—it was something I couldn’t have. I needed to believe that all of the things I was miserable about made some logical sense.

If I was lonely and sad and bored and scared because I had terrible hair, then at least there was a reason. And at least there was a possibility that someday things would get better. That if I tried hard enough, I would eventually come up with a solution.

Which is maybe why, one spring day junior year, a couple days after I turned seventeen and ONE DAY before taking my official senior yearbook photo (the photo that would also end up in my college freshman facebook and thus follow me for BASICALLY THE REST OF MY LIFE), I made a drastic decision.

Robin Wasserman photo 4

Yes, some girls would get a pixie cut.

I got a poodle cut.

This may be the only wild and crazy thing I did over the entire course of my teenage years. (And okay, I’m aware that it doesn’t even register on the wild and crazy scale, but it seemed pretty nuts at the time.)

It was a bad idea, and seventeen turned out to be a really bad hair year, but it was also the turning point. As if cutting it all off had managed to reboot the system, my hair grew back…different. Instead of the knotted, frizzy, dried-out mess that had been seventeen years in the making, I had a clean slate, untangled and for the most part, unbattered by the elements. (The elements being my incompetence and that of the fine folks at the Haircuttery.) Year by year, haircut by haircut (always, always a tiny, undramatic trim), it got better. Which I’m pretty sure would never have happened if I hadn’t made the stupidest, most reckless decision of my entire hair life.

There’s probably a metaphor in there somewhere, but I’m not groping at some kind of existential life lesson here. I’m talking hair, pure and simple. It’s probably true that a good hair day won’t change your life.

But trust me, when you’ve been waiting as long as I waited, that first one you ever have feels like it will.

The Waking DarkRobin Wasserman is the critically-acclaimed author of the Seven Deadly Sins series, Hacking Harvard, the Skinned trilogy, and The Book of Blood and Shadow. The Waking Dark is forthcoming in September 2013. She lives in Brooklyn.

Find her online at

Follow @robinwasserman 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 Adele Griffin at 17?


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