confessions / memories

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?

23 thoughts on “Robin Wasserman: Haunted at 17

  1. Lots of girls in high school were totally obsessed with their hair, or nails or whatever! I think this is an awesome post, showing how focusing on a trait like hair might improve everything else.

    Thank you for sharing:)

    ccfioriole at gmail dot com

  2. I think being a girl I’m programmed to obsess about SOMETHING about how I look. I still have days where I get frustrated but I’ve learned to embrace it. As much as possible. It’s not always a bad thing to obsess :p

  3. Obsessed with boys, music and trying to be cool.🙂 I tried so hard! Now I just couldn’t care.🙂

  4. I don’t think some of you understand. I’m still obsessed with my hair and no matter how much I tell myself that I’m a free spirit and my Fro represents my Aquarius ways, well, it just doesn’t. The frizzy, poodle hair haunts me too.

  5. Great post! If only people would appreciate the beauty of curly hair. My biggest teenage hair mistake was bangs. So thin you could see through them, they were always squashed on one side and flipped up on the other. I wear side bangs now.

  6. I dont remember exactly 17 what was my greatest worry but I think it was will I be able to travel soon :p I wanted to travel so bad. And I went to Greece around that time and later I been to USA and Asia and trough Europe here and there, and I still want to travel of course.

  7. I think that one thing that matters to any women at any age is their hair! What haunted me at 17 was making sure my hair was perfect when we went to various colleges for campus visits. I didn’t want a bad hair day to haunt me! One thing for sure, 17 was an interesting time and fun as well for me. Good luck with your book!

  8. I completely understand hair trauma. Though mine is the opposite. I was born with bright, blonde Shirley Temple hair, which, though it grew slowly, finally amassed in fine, softly waving hair. I had that hair up until the 4th grade, when I lice epidemic had my mother callously cut it into a pixie cut, high above my ears. I admit I hated it when my hair disappeared, but I didn’t feel self-conscious. It wasn’t until the next day at school, when my friends and people I didn’t know saw the ‘carnage’ and actually cried -real- tears at this loss that I didn’t feel that I became heavily aware of how much my hair had defined me to those people.

    I loathed even an inch getting cut after that, and even now. My hair is no longer golden, it is thinning and at best frizzed in a never-looks-brushed way, but I refuse to get is cut short, because I am terrified of it not working out, and then having to wait YEARS for it to get to a ‘feminine’ length again.

    Excellent post!

  9. Wonderful and intriguing read! I don’t know a single girl who isn’t obsessed with her hair. It’s such a strong reflection of how I like to portray myself, and if anyone attacks that its the most personal insult in the world to me! X

  10. I always hated my curly, frizzy hair too, and I spent hours as a kid in front of the mirror trying to tame it until I was exhausted and crying. Luckily, most of the things I cared about at 15 I just don’t give a shit about at 40. Great post!

  11. 🙂 I was fortunate to have enormous hair during the 80s when enormous hair was IN, baby!

    Since then I’ve found that the only thing that has tamed it is gravity, and excessive length. It’s roughly knee-length at this point, and I’m not cutting it. It takes seven seconds to get ready in the morning (braid, wrap, bun, done) and is far more low-maintenance than the blow-drying and moussing that I recall in the 80s when it was much, much shorter. The only downside is having strange women occasionally come up to me and tell me that unless I cut it off and donate right this second, I hate cancer babies. o_O It’s up most of the time though, so that doesn’t happen often.

    I think that’s the best kept secret for very thick, wavy to curly hair. Gravity alone can tame it. Anything less than hip-length, and it’s Roseanne Roseannadanna time.

  12. It so easy to get obsessed about anything when you are 17. I think I was obsessed with the fact that I wasn’t accepted – when in fact I was. Shorter and spottier than I would’ve liked, less pretty, less smart, less everything than others. Awesome post, really good.

  13. The blog post was a great read, but I am actually sitting here CHEERING for your amazing marketing genius! The series of blog posts to emphasize your newly released book title is so creative I’m stunned into silence. But, it shouldn’t last long, I’m a talker. WAY TO GO! I’d be waving pom-poms if I had any.

    My hair haunting story at 17 was trying to keep up Farrah Hair while living in North Dakota, where the wind never stops blowing.

  14. wow at 17 I was so obsessing over trying to ‘fit’ in to life, Spent so much time that I was hardly ever at peace with how I looked or sounded. Including hair! I have to say it’s probably the norm for many of us.

  15. Oh my gosh, that spin the bottle pic is so CUTE! I think you look adorable, even with the poodle cut… LOL, what a great description though. Love this story, and boy do I know what you mean!

  16. Congratulations on being freshly pressed!🙂

    Have to say, hair was really the least of my worries back in school. I was one of those annoyingly competitive athlete/mathlete/trivia junkie all rounders till I hit high school, and my parents happened. All of a sudden sports were banned, going out was banned, heck, fun was banned. They coulda passed for the most non asian looking stereotype bully asian parents ever (“your grades will bring honor to the family’ ish stuff). I went from being a complete extrovert to a forced introvert, crippling my self esteem, basically my personality. 17 was not a good year,, definitely not. Looking back they probably meant well, but oh well, not like I care anymore lol. I’m not 17 anymore.😛

  17. I thought I was the only one!! I was tormented by/for my hair as a child and now,well,when I wear it down the whole world knows my hair is down! I loved reading this. Thank You.

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