confessions / memories

Haunted at 17: Featured Story #2


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. 

Today’s featured Haunted at 17 story is by Jennifer Gennari. Read on to see what haunted her when she was 17 years old…

Guest post by Jennifer Gennari

(Jennifer at 17 years old.)

(Jennifer at 17 years old.)

Seventeen is the sex year.

OK, that’s what my eighteen-year-old daughter just said, when I told her about responding to Nova Ren Suma’s call for blog posts to celebrate the launch of her book, 17 & GONE.

But I completely stopped talking. She was right—seventeen was the sex year.

I was a late bloomer. We had moved to Vermont two years earlier; I was fifteen, skinny like a two-by-four, and unkissed. I basically stayed silent my entire sophomore year, observing, eyes wide. The culture was so different from suburban Boston. In my new high school, many of the kids were dating the people they would marry. I studied the boots, the embroidered floral sweaters, and turtlenecks. Soon I was wearing red chamois shirts over jeans but my hair stayed long and straight.

My first kiss, horribly later than my younger sister’s first, was at sixteen. But the way it happened made up for the wait. It was summer and he was blond, nothing like me, and so sweet. One night, we walked hand and hand out to the bridge across the pond in the middle of the golf course. The frogs were croaking, and we leaned into each other, crashing against the rickety white railing.

I knew instantly I liked it. I liked it a lot. He was nice, but making out was awesome. Sex education was about how to say no and wait or, if you go for it, don’t get pregnant, don’t get STDs. But no one had mentioned the pleasure of fumbling and frantic needs met. The shocking greatness of hands on skin. Kissing felt good!

I was still shy, but I joined my friends in obsessing about landing a boyfriend. (In fact, years later, I realized that opposite-sex pursuit was not for everyone.) We flirted in the halls, passed notes in class, drove to clandestine keg parties on the off chance someone—anyone—would pair up with us. Every moment was about chasing after the promise of that electricity, that brief sensation of solidarity with another body.

That was me at seventeen. Yes, I wanted to fit in, and I never quite did. But I did have a boyfriend, and I learned just how great sex could be. (Thank you, Planned Parenthood, for protection!)

The only thing that haunts me about these good memories is the way grownups still aren’t honest about what preoccupies every adolescent—boys and girls. Sex at seventeen? If you’re ready, and he’s right for you, it’s OK. (And may it be wonderful, awkward, loving sex!)

Jennifer Gennari is the author of MY MIXED-UP BERRY BLUE SUMMER (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children), an ABC Spring 2012 New Voices title and ALA Rainbow List title. She is now at work on a young adult novel, LIFE, SUSPENDED. Visit or follow @JenGenn.


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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