Haunted at 17: Featured Story #1


Thank you so much for reading the Haunted at 17 blog series to celebrate the publication of my new novel, 17 & Gone! To mark the release of this story about a 17-year-old girl haunted by the missing, I asked some authors I know to join me in answering this question: What haunted YOU at 17? They answered, and now it’s your turn. Starting today, I’ll be featuring (at least!) FIVE of the Haunted at 17 posts that you wrote and either posted on your blogs or emailed to me. 

Today’s featured Haunted at 17 story is by Cordelia Jensen. Read on to see what haunted her when she was 17 years old, in poem form…

Guest post by Cordelia Jensen

Cordelia at 17. Photo taken by her mom, Mariette Pathy Allen.

When I was 17, in 1993–94 Manhattan, I was haunted by AIDS. My father’s sickness an omnipresent force in my life. I tried to push it away with Yearbook, with partying, with Phish shows, and with ’80s movies, but it was there, no matter what. Here are two poems about that time:

The Stranger on the Street

I escaped through playing quarters. Drinking wine coolers on the stoop. Wearing denim shorts and flipping my hair just right. For them. Running with girls who held the power of a room. Who knew how to shape it. I came home to the phone, gossiping with the girls I just left on the bus. On the streets, we would push each other into strangers. Walking fast. We would laugh as one of us crashed into someone. We didn’t care who. We had a game where we trashed bathrooms. We made music videos. We posed. See me? I was the butterfly catcher. I captured the beautiful about us, dried it out, and hung it up for the viewers. I lived nostalgia before it happened to any of us. The day I found out: I took each of you aside, I told each of you what was happening. A conference call. An emergency break-through. And AIDS became what was ignored as we chatted. AIDS became the stranger on the street I kept bumping into.

Caught in Evolution

When I turned 17, Dad took me on a walk.
He was slow, five months from dying.

We walked up, down one block.
Started on Riverside: Daddy’s head down, coat collar up,

His arms long and feet big like a monster crawling
Up from the sea, a creature becoming extinct.

It was windy with bright sun and I felt nervous,
Scared this would be a talk about sex or death.

My head down too, sometimes glancing at him, sideways,
We are closer to West End when he says,

“You don’t have to ask me permission to do anything anymore,
You are an adult. I’m going to treat you as an adult.”

My heart stuck in my throat, like a lozenge that cannot soothe,
Cannot candy coat what is swollen.

I still can’t find the words to speak my side of his life sentence.
I know he said it to release himself:

Time taking his t-cells away, he could check off
an item on his list of life tasks by calling me grown up.

It was also to free me of preoccupation:
As if I was the scientist obsessed with analysis,

determined to study him, a specimen caught
in evolution. After he said the words, standing still,

I looked past the Hudson, into New Jersey,
and wondered how many people were saying goodbye.

Cordelia Jensen graduated with a MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Cordelia was Poet Laureate of Perry County in 2006 & 2007. She works at The Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Philadelphia where she teaches creative writing classes for kids & teens. She has recently signed with agent Sara Crowe at Harvey Klinger for her YA novel in verse, Skyscraping. You can find her at: https://twitter.com/cordeliajensen


Don’t miss all the posts in the Haunted at 17 series, in which YA authors revealed what haunted them at 17… (Thank you to these generous authors for taking the time to write these stories and be a part of this!)

But wait. I’m not done yet!

…Do YOU Have a Haunted at 17 Story You’d Like to Share Here?

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 listing all the posts in a round-up this weekend.

Even better, as you can see from today, I’ll be featuring five of your Haunted at 17 stories here in full next week. So if you don’t have a blog—or even if you’d already posted yours and want to include it here—email your story me.

And remember: 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.


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