17 & Gone

17 & Gone

by Nova Ren Suma
17 & Gone

17 & Gone

by Nova Ren Suma



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Seventeen-year-old Lauren is having visions of girls who have gone missing. And all these girls have just one thing in common—they are 17 and gone without a trace. As Lauren struggles to shake these visions, impossible questions demand urgent answers: Why are the girls speaking to Lauren? How can she help them? And . . . is she next? Through Lauren’s search for clues, things begin to unravel, and when a brush with death lands Lauren in the hospital, a shocking truth changes everything.

With complexity and richness, Nova Ren Suma serves up a beautifully visual, fresh interpretation of what it means to be lost.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101592526
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/21/2013
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: eBook
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 364,903
File size: 664 KB
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

Nova Ren Suma is the author of Imaginary Girls and Dani Noir, which was recently rereleased under the new title Fade Out. She has an MFA in fiction from Columbia University and lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

HE and I were different, too, but I don’t want to forget all the good things about him. Like how he’s fearless when it comes to braving heights, or breaking and entering; he once scaled the side of my house to reach an open window when I’d locked myself out, balancing on a flimsy gutter high up over the backyard, holding on by his fingertips. There was the way he’d go ahead and do something with me, simply because I asked him to. He didn’t need to know why.

Like right then, in the snow. He was lifting the lock to take a look. A puff of his cold breath hung between us, as if reaching out to touch me, but I was just out of range. Just.

There I was, watching flurries fall and catch in his hair, those unruly curls of his poking out from under his hoodie, wishing I could tell him about Abby. But Jamie didn’t believe in things like ghosts. And how do you tell a sane, rational person that you’ve had an encounter with one? That you’ve connected somehow with a girl whose face you found on a poster? A girl who went missing right here? How she’s reaching out to you, you’re sure of it? How she’s trying to communicate something, though you can’t quite make out the message?

I think bringing him with me was my way of telling him—but no matter what screamed out in the dark of my head while we stood there together at the gate, I guess he couldn’t hear if I didn’t open my mouth and let it out.


Catalyst Laurie Halse Anderson

Dreamland Sarah Dessen

Extraordinary Nancy Werlin

If I Stay Gayle Forman

Imaginary Girls Nova Ren Suma

Looking for Alaska John Green

The Sky Is Everywhere Jandy Nelson

Spirit Walk Richie Tankersley Cusick

Trance Linda Gerber

Willow Julia Hoban

Wintergirls Laurie Halse Anderson

— — —

GIRLS go missing every day. They slip out bedroom windows and into strange cars. They leave good-bye notes or they don’t get a chance to tell anyone. They cross borders. They hitch rides, squeezing themselves into overcrowded backseats, sitting on willing laps. They curl up and crouch down, or they shove their bodies out of sunroofs and give off victory shouts. Girls make plans to go, but they also vanish without meaning to, and sometimes people confuse one for the other. Some girls go kicking and screaming and clawing out the eyes of whoever won’t let them stay. And then there are the girls who never reach where they’re going. Who disappear. Their ends are endless, their stories unknown. These girls are lost, and I’m the only one who’s seen them.

I know their names. I know where they end up—a place seeming as formless and boundless as the old well on the abandoned property off Hollow Mill Road that swallows the town’s dogs.

I want to tell everyone about these girls, about what’s happening, I want to give warning, I want to give chase. I’d do it, too, if I thought someone would believe me.

There are girls like Abby, who rode off into the night. And girls like Shyann, who ran, literally, from her tormentors and kept running. Girls like Madison, who took the bus down to the city with a phone number snug in her pocket and stars in her eyes. Girls like Isabeth, who got into the car even when everything in her was warning her to walk away. And there are girls like Trina, who no one bothered looking for; girls the police will never hear about because no one cared enough to report them missing.

Another girl could go today. She could be pulling her scarf tight around her face to protect it from the cold, searching through her coat pockets for her car keys so they’re out and ready when she reaches her car in the dark lot. She could glance in through the bright, blazing windows of the nearest restaurant as she hurries past. And then when she’s out of sight the shadowy hands could grab her, the sidewalk could gulp her up. The only trace of the girl would be the striped wool scarf she dropped on the patch of black ice, and when a car comes and runs it over, dragging it away on its snow tires, there isn’t even that.

I could be wrong.

Say I’m wrong.

Say there aren’t any hands.

Because what I sometimes believe is that I could be staring right at one of the girls—like that girl in my section of study hall, the one muddling through her trigonometry and drawing doodles of agony in the margins because she hates math. I look away for a second, and when I turn back, the girl’s chair is empty, her trig problem abandoned. And that’s it: I will never see that girl again. She’s gone.

I think it’s as simple as that. Without struggle, without any way to stop it, there one moment, not there the next. That’s how it happened with Abby—and with Shyann and Madison and Isabeth and Trina, and the others. And I’m pretty sure that’s how it will happen to me.



CASE TYPE: Endangered Runaway

DOB: June 20, 1995

MISSING: September 2, 2012


SEX: Female

RACE: Caucasian

HAIR: Brown

EYES: Brown

HEIGHT: 5' 7" (174 cm)

WEIGHT: 120 lbs (54 kg)

MISSING FROM: Orange Terrace, NJ, United States

CIRCUMSTANCES: Abigail, who more often goes by the nickname Abby, was reported missing September 2 but may have been seen last on July 29 or July 30 on the grounds of Lady-of-the-Pines Summer Camp for Girls in the Pinecliff area of New York State. She was said to be riding a blue Schwinn bicycle off the campground after the 9 p.m. lights-out. She may have been wearing red shorts and a camp counselor T-shirt. Her nose is pierced. Her family does not believe she returned to New Jersey.


Pinecliff Police Department (New York) 1-845-555-1100

Orange Terrace Police Department (New Jersey) 1-609-555-6638

SHE’S Abigail Sinclair, brown hair, brown eyes, age 17, from New Jersey—but I call her Abby. I found her on the side of the road in the dead of winter, months after she went missing.

Abby’s story started in the pinewoods surrounding my hometown. The seasons changed and the summer heat faded, and no one knew yet. The dreamland hung low in the clouds, smoke-gray lungs shriveled with disease, and no one looked up to see. The snow came down and the bristly trees shuddered in the wind, sharing secrets, and no one stopped to listen. Until I did.

I was forced to stop. My old van made it so, as if someone had tinkered with the engine, knowing it would hold out down my driveway and onto this main stretch of road, until here, where the pines whispered, it would choke and give out and leave me stranded.

I drove this road practically every day—to school and to the Shop & Save, the supermarket on the outskirts of Pinecliff where I stocked shelves and worked the registers on Saturdays and a couple afternoons during the week. I must have passed this spot where the old highway meets Route 11 hundreds of times without realizing. Without seeing her there.

She came visible seconds after my engine gave out, as if a fog had been lifted from off the steep slope of our railroad town that mid-December morning.

Abby Sinclair. There at the intersection. I’m not saying she was there in the flesh with her thumb out and her hair wild in the wind and her bare knees purpled from cold—it didn’t start out that way. The first time I saw Abby, it was only a picture: the class photograph reproduced on her Missing poster.

When the light turned green and traffic started moving, I wasn’t moving with it. I was arrested by the flyer across the road, that weathered, black-and-white image of Abby, with the single bold word above her forehead that pronounced her MISSING.

I remember being dimly aware of the cars behind my van honking and swerving around me, some drivers flipping me off as they blasted past. I remember that I couldn’t move. The van, because the engine wouldn’t start, and my body, because my joints had locked. The green light dangling overhead had cycled through again to yellow—blinking, blinking—then red. I knew this only from the colors dancing on the steering wheel, which I held in two fisted hands, so my knuckles that had been green, then yellow, were now red again.

Ahead of me, where the old highway halted in a fork, a stretch of pine trees braced themselves against the biting wind. The pines were weighted down by weeks’ worth of snow, but they still moved beneath it, unable to keep still. The slope of ground between them and the road was white and pristine, not a footprint to mar it. Centered within all of this was the telephone pole and, hung there as if displayed on the bare walls of a gallery, the missing girl’s face.

I left my van door swinging open, keys in the ignition, backpack on the front seat, and abandoned it to run across the intersection toward the stretch of pines. A pickup truck skidded; a horn shrieked. A car almost met me with its tires, but I moved out of the way before I could feel the bumper’s touch. I was vaguely aware of a big, yellow vehicle stopping short behind me—the school bus, the one I rode before I got my license and saved up to buy the old van—but by then I’d made it to the pole.

I trampled through the snow to get close. The flyer was old, the date she was last seen long passed. Her photocopied picture had been duplicated too many times for much detail to show through the ink on ink, so with all those layers smudging away her face, and with the snow spatter and the fade, she could have been anybody really, any girl.

By that I mean she could have been someone who had nothing to do with me. Someone I’d leave attached to the pole on that cold day, someone I’d never think of again in this lifetime.

But I knew she wasn’t just any girl. I had a glimmering pull of recognition, burning me through and through, so I couldn’t even sense the cold. I’d never felt anything like it before. All I knew is I was meant to find her.

The flyer had only facts. She was 17—like I was; I’d just turned 17 the week before. She’d gone missing from some summer camp I’d never heard of—though it was around here, in the Pinecliff area, near this place that overlooked the frigid, gray Hudson River from the steep hill on which our town was built. The commuter train that ran alongside the river stopped here nearly every hour during the day, and crept past at night. The summer camp had to be close.

I tore the page from the pole, ripping it loose from where it was stuck fast with packing tape that had been wound and wound around the pole to keep her from falling face-first into the snow, or from getting carried away on a gust of exhaust and escaping into the traffic leading to the New York State Thruway. It was the clear tape covering the details on the flyer that had kept it from disintegrating for all these months. It was also the tape, so much of it, that made it almost impossible to tear her free.

When I crossed the intersection again—more horns honking—and reached my van, I saw that some Good Samaritan (or a creeper disguising himself as a Good Samaritan) had stopped his own car on the shoulder to offer help. There was some tinkering with the engine, mention of a possibly busted fan belt, and a plume of gray smoke that spat itself into the man’s face and then lifted up into the bone-white air overhead, a blot of hate on the sky that already threatened more snow. There was a tow I couldn’t afford, and an hour waiting on a greasy folding chair in the back of the garage because it was too cold to wait outside. It wasn’t until they fixed my van and I was headed in late to school that I had a moment alone to take a closer look at the flyer.

I didn’t tell Jamie or Deena, or anyone. There wasn’t anyone I wanted to tell. This discovery was mine, and I wanted to hold it close.

My heart had an irregular beat that I can almost hear again now, like an extra thump was thrown in to make me think there were two hearts in the van, thumping.

There were—but I wasn’t aware at first. This was before I knew she followed me.

I’D parked in the senior parking lot even though I wasn’t a senior, cut the engine, and was sitting there holding it. The flyer. The paper was the same temperature as my fingers—cold—so I couldn’t feel either.

I tried to flatten the paper against the steering wheel, smoothing the tears and wrinkles from her face as best I could to study what they said about her.

“Endangered Runaway” they called her. A sliver of fear entered me when I saw they said she was in danger, but now I know that everyone under eighteen who goes missing is called endangered. On Missing posters, if you’re not an “Endangered Runaway,” you’re “Endangered Missing,” but you’re always in danger—it’s never a “She’s Probably Doing Okay, But We Have to Check Since It’s the Law” missing girl.

Besides, Abby was in danger. I felt it.

I pored over her flyer again, learning her hometown, her hair color, her eye color, her weight and height. I learned that she was gone before she was reported missing, and I didn’t understand why. I learned of her pierced nose. I didn’t learn about her habit of writing the name of the boy she liked on the inside of her elbow, then spitting on it and rubbing at it till it was clean. That information wasn’t on the flyer, and this was before she told me.

I would have pocketed the piece of paper and gone into the school building, and maybe all of what happened next would have been different, but that’s when I saw the light.

My Dodge van had one of those cigarette lighters built into the dashboard, a knob beside the stereo that you press in to heat. It glows orange, and then when it’s ready to use, it pops back out. I’d had the van a couple months, but I’d never used the lighter.

Now the knob was pressed in. An orb of fire-orange was blazing from the dashboard as if someone had reached out an arm to light a cigarette. A phantom cigarette and a phantom arm, because I was alone in the van. I was alone.

I told myself I must’ve knocked the lighter when I parked. Or the mechanic who’d fixed the engine got it stuck. It’s been lit up, I assured myself; it’s been on the whole time.

I looked out at the quiet parking lot, a white expanse beneath the rising ridge above the school. Nothing stirred.

This was when something streaked past outside: a fast-moving blur, as if someone were sprinting the length of the school property. Someone wearing red.

My temples hammered, and I screwed my eyes shut. I lost my grip on the flyer and felt it fall to the floor. There were stars clouding my vision, stars that became one star, until then, there: the sparkling cubic zirconia in her left nostril.

She was visible in the van’s rearview mirror when I opened my eyes. Bright and searing like a sunspot, until my eyes adjusted, or her heat dimmed enough so I could see her clearly.

She’d taken the middle bench seat, the collapsible one I hadn’t bothered to collapse all week, as if I’d known to expect her company. This seat was just behind mine, but I didn’t turn around. I could say that I didn’t want to make any sudden movements, that I was trying not to scare her away, but truth is I couldn’t. My body wouldn’t move for me at all.

Her reflection in the rearview showed her face at eye level. Her shoulders hunched. Her two bare knees folded to her chin, purplish blooms of bruises on her shins like she’d crawled across the icy asphalt lot, slithering between parked cars, to reach my black van.

This was Abigail Sinclair from the Missing flyer. I could smell her, harsh and hot like a tuft of hair burning.

She uncrossed her arms and lowered her knees, and I noticed that her T-shirt had the name of the summer camp and a picture to go with it: a veiled lady lifted up above a trio of pine trees, as if in the midst of being taken herself. The shirt was covered in grime and streaked with mud, so the words COUNSELOR-IN-TRAINING could barely be made out above her heart. Below the shirt, I saw she had on a pair of shorts. Red ones, with thin white racer stripes. She had been on the home team in Color War that day—I found that out later.

She was letting me see what she was wearing on the night she disappeared, but I knew, even then, that this wasn’t about what a girl was wearing when she found herself gone. Nothing she could have worn on that night would have made a difference. Not these shorts or another pair that were longer or less red. Not a bathing suit. Not a bear costume. Not a short skirt. Not a burqa.

There was so much more to her story I didn’t know.

“Abigail?” I said. It came out in a whisper.

Without a word or warning, my vision shifted. I was soon seeing through some layers of smoke and coughed-up haze into what she herself saw the night she went missing. This seeing was more like knowing. I didn’t have to question it—in the way that I can be sure, without needing to check first, that there are five fingers on my hand.

What I came to know was this:

She didn’t like it when people called her Abigail. So I wouldn’t, not anymore.

And she did ride away on that bike, though it was green, not blue as had been reported. What I saw of her—what she willed me to see—was a moving image spooling out in the frame of my rearview mirror, a home movie projected in an empty theater for me and only me.

There she was, riding a bright green bicycle into a sea of darkness. That was her, coasting on a gust of wind and letting her long hair untangle and fly. It was a rusty old bike, one she borrowed from the counselor’s shed; it was an empty road, one on which no cars passed; it was a slick, sweet-smelling summer’s night.

That was it, that was the last of her. She lingered on it, and so did I, holding the memory between us like something sweet slowly licked off a shared spoon.

I watched the reflective light mounted on the back of the bicycle catch and glow and grow small as she traveled into the dark distance. Watched her pedal, quick at first, then slowing to coast down the hill. Watched as she lifted both arms from the handlebars for a heartbeat of a second, then put them back down and held on. I watched her go.

Then I lost sight of her. The bike dipped under, but the image of the road stayed still. I was leaning forward, trying to see farther, when the mirror went dark and I realized someone was pounding on the window of my van.

My neck turned until I was face-to-face with the intruder.

It was Mr. Floris, ninth- and tenth-grade biology teacher by trade and prison guard in his dark dreams and deepest fantasies. Everyone knew Mr. Floris loved trolling the school grounds during his free periods, itching to hand out detentions. And even though it was no surprise to find him in the parking lot seeking to foil late sleepers and slackers, it was still a shock to be caught. I’d forgotten where I was.

He rapped his knuckles on the glass, then lowered the red scarf that he’d wound around his face to keep out the cold. When his mouth was free, I saw the chapped lips beneath his mustache shape out the words: You. Roll down this window this instant, young lady.

There was only a single layer of window glass between us, but I couldn’t hear him. I heard nothing but the distant whirring of two bicycle wheels. Then he pounded again, and I heard that and flinched and was rolling down the window and saying, “Sorry, Mr. Floris. I didn’t see you there.”

At the same time I was taking another glance in the rearview mirror, needing to know—was she still in the van with me? Was she huddled behind my seat, in the dark cavern in back? But something was blocking my view: the reflection of the pale girl in the mirror who must have been rubbing at her eyes again, a bad habit. She had smoke-gray tracks of mascara streaking down her cheeks as if she’d been holed up in the van crying. She wasn’t. I hadn’t cried in years.

On top of my head was the puffy wool hat my friend Deena Douglas stole from the mall and didn’t like on herself and so gave to me. The hat was pulled low over my eyebrows, hiding my ears and hiding the view of the backseat where Abby still could be.

“Miss Woodman,” Mr. Floris said, “you do realize it’s third period and you should be in class? Get out of this van and come with me or I’ll have to write you up.”

I’d never been written up before. This was before I started skipping all that school, before the “marks” on my “permanent record” that I’d “regret” for the “rest of my life.” This was before I shattered into the particles and pieces I’m in now.

Even so, I didn’t get out of the van.

“But . . .” I said, pausing there, waiting.

Because didn’t he see?

I was expecting him to notice her behind me. He was close enough to my window that he must have been able to see the bench seat and who was in it. There . . . the apparition of a girl hiding behind her hair, wasn’t she there with her grimy face and her scratched-up knees?

I could still smell her. I could sense her breathing, too, her mouth sharing air with my mouth even though logically I knew it wasn’t possible.

But Mr. Floris’s eyes landed on something else: The lighter in my dashboard had thrust itself out with a hard pop.

“That’s it, Lauren, get out. Now. I’m writing you up.”

He didn’t see—he was blind to it. To her. Soon enough he was opening the door for me and waving me out onto the icy pavement. I glanced directly at her only once, when I was reaching down to rescue her flyer from the floor.

Her long hair was tangled with leaves, I noticed then, stuck through with loose green leaves and pine needles and matted with twigs and sap. One bruised knee was bleeding, and the trail of blood had wound down her leg to between her toes. She was wearing one flip-flop. The other had been lost somewhere I couldn’t imagine.

I knew she fell off the bicycle; I could see it happening, a loose rock under her tire catching her off-balance in the dark depths of the night. But did she get up again, or did something stop her? What and who did she meet at the bottom of that hill?

She didn’t say. I wouldn’t have expected her to tell me in front of him, anyway.

I stepped out of the van, closed and locked the door, and followed Mr. Floris to the front office, where I was about to be awarded a block of after-school detention. But I did look back. I kept looking back. Nothing would keep me from looking for her now.

— — —

That was the first time I was visited by Abby, who met her fate outside the Lady-of-the-Pines Summer Camp for Girls. Now, there are so many more things I know about her.

She’s Abigail Sinclair of Orange Terrace, New Jersey. Yes, there’s that. But she’s really only Abigail to her grandparents and her homeroom teacher. To everyone else, she’s Abby.

Abby with the smallest speck of a stud in her nose, so it looks like a sparkling star has been plucked from the sky and hung low beside her face, a star that follows her wherever she goes, night or day. Abby who chews her nails, just the ones on her thumbs. Abby who never wears skirts. Abby who’s afraid of clowns and isn’t kidding when she says so. Abby who doesn’t mind when it rains. Abby who played flute, for three months, then quit. Abby, solid C student. Abby, still a virgin, on a technicality, which does count. Abby who can tap-dance. Abby who can’t whistle, no matter how hard she tries. Abby who likes, maybe even could have loved, Luke.

Abby with brown hair, brown eyes, 120 pounds, 5'7", small scar on her right knee from tripping over the back step when she was five.

Abby: age 17, reported missing September 2, but gone before that, gone in summer and no one went looking.


I don’t know how I made it through the day I first found Abby.

My memory holds on only to vague pieces, because other, sharper things have since come to take their place. I remember the detention slip for cutting class and smoking in the parking lot, torn ragged on one side so it looked like someone had taken a bite out of my sentence, but I don’t remember the detention itself. I don’t remember what happened in my classes or what I learned, if anything. I don’t remember lunch period with Deena, and what particular kind of slop-on-a-tray I carried to our table and then put in my mouth. Or what plans she made for her eighteenth birthday party, which was all she could talk about even though it was weeks and weeks away. Or anything else she said.

At one point there was my boyfriend, Jamie Rossi, at my locker, asking what happened and why I was late, and I remember this because it was the first time I had ever kept something from him.

“Just engine trouble,” I heard myself telling him, “that’s all.” I didn’t say anything about a girl taped to a telephone pole, a girl hidden in the back of my van. It was still possible I’d imagined it. Imagined her.

I have this freeze-frame of Jamie in my memory, this picture. In it, the hood of his sweatshirt is popped up over his head, and the dark curls over his forehead are spilling out because he needed a haircut again like he seemed to practically every other week. He’s leaning in, eyes closed so I see how long his lashes are. And there are his lips out to meet mine. His stubble showing, but only on his chin, because he couldn’t grow a full beard, not if he tried. I can’t tell what he’s thinking—if he believes me—because his eyes are closed. Not that I could ever guess, with Jamie. He’s a guy, so he’s used to keeping things close.

Then the picture of Jamie’s face falls away, and I must have kissed him back, or a teacher came by and stopped us, but I don’t remember that part.

I was outside myself, as if I were standing at the dip in the highway that led to Pinecliff Central High School, the last place you could turn before heading to school, all while some shadow-me was inside the building going to my classes, kissing my boyfriend, answering to my name when it was called.

I couldn’t get Abby out of my mind.

During my free period, I did a search online, on one of the library computers, and found a listing in the missing persons database for an Abigail Sinclair from New Jersey. That flyer on the telephone pole may have been a few months old, but she was still out there somewhere. She was still 17 years old. Still missing.

There was also a public page online that her family or friends must have made for her—a memorial of sorts where anyone could post a message:


ABBY! IF YOU ARE READING THIS! Come home! We miss you.


Abigail, it’s your cousin Trinity. You have Grandma and Grandpa so worried you have no idea. Where are you????? Call me if you’re reading this. We just want to know you’re ok!


Dear Abby, I have never met u but I am praying for u every night


Abbz U R missed @ school <3


luv you girl come home!!!!


It was when I was scrolling through this page of notes left for Abby, notes I felt sure she’d never seen, from some people she didn’t even know, that I realized a person was standing behind me, waiting for the right moment to speak.

When I turned in my chair, I watched this girl’s gaze peel away from my computer screen and go to me. I didn’t recognize her at first, and then her face took on shape and I realized she was a freshman, a girl I’d seen around school. I was more aware of the fact that she was breathing, undeniably alive, than of anything else. This girl wasn’t missing; she was right here. And all I wanted was for her to go away.

“Hey, Lauren,” she said, “we saw you this morning. Are you, um . . . okay?”

“You saw me? Where?” The thought of being watched while I was in the van alarmed me.

“Before school? You were in the middle of the road? The bus almost hit you? We all saw you and we called out the window to you.” She waited. “Didn’t you hear us?”

I shook my head. A feeling of cold came over me as she brought me back to that moment—so immediate I could have been out on the windy highway beneath the snowy pines right then. I shivered involuntarily.

“We were all like, ‘Hey what’s going on, why’d we stop?’ And the bus driver was like, ‘Whoa, there’s a girl in the road.’ And then I was like, ‘I know her, that’s Lauren Woodman! From school!’ You know we used to be on the same bus and—”

“My van broke down,” I said, so she’d stop talking. I’d already clicked away from Abby’s page and filled the computer screen with the library’s search catalog. But the flyer—Abby’s dirty, crumpled flyer—was on my lap under the desk, and I twisted it up and rolled it into a tight tube.

“Yeah, but you ran across the road. We saw you—”

She was a tiny girl, with warm brown skin and warm brown hair, and she seemed harmless enough, she seemed genuinely concerned, but I couldn’t listen to her anymore. What caught my attention was the movement out the window: not the flurries of snow but the flash of red. A gloveless hand on the glass that left streaks of mud in its wake.

She’d left my van and come close to the school, even though she couldn’t get inside. There she was, a girl dressed for summer, though all around her was a white stretch of December snow. Her face was clouded with dirt, her long hair woven with brambles, with sticks and leaves and other indecipherable things gummed up and glimmering through the glass. The expression on her face—that haunted look in her eyes—made it seem like she’d seen things I hadn’t, things not many of us had. Bad things.

The hand to the glass, the gesture, palm out, five fingers spread, insinuated so much to me: I should say nothing about her if asked, not to this random freshman and not to anyone. And it said she wanted something from me, needed it, and that I was the only one who could give it to her.

Help. Abby Sinclair needed my help.

“What’re you looking at?” the freshman asked. She followed my gaze to the window and when she said, “Oh . . .” my heart seized, and I wanted to block her view with my body. But then she added, “Gross. Someone’s got to clean that window—so dirty.” She looked back at me and shrugged.

She wasn’t able to see Abby, but she could see what Abby had left behind: the handprints, if not the hand that made them.

THAT night I had the dream.

In it was a house. I could try to explain it like it’s an actual place that could be found on some street somewhere. Narrow and made of brick. Abandoned. Four floors rising up to disappear into shadow-smogged sky. The broken iron gate. The cracked and collapsing set of stairs leading up to the dark front door.

Even though the dream starts with me standing out on the street, I know it’s not a street I could find anywhere in the waking world. There’s no town or city beyond this place. The sidewalk begins and ends in a prickling patch of darkness. I can only go inside the house. And I always go in.

That first night, I was at the door in no time. Though the windows were covered in boards, and though a shroud of silence enveloped the building, curling out from the cracks and gaps in the brick, gagging me with it, I lifted my hand to try the bell. It was grown through with rot, so when I pressed the doorbell my finger sunk into something soft and wet, as if plunging into an open, oozing wound.

I pulled my hand away, then tried the door itself. It gave. One push, a few steps in, and there I was standing in darkness. I didn’t realize I was in the foyer, beneath the dangling skeleton of a once-grand chandelier. I didn’t know what was above me, or beside me, or shuffling down near my feet.

But I could smell something: the distinct scent of smoke. It tickled my throat, made my eyes water. Coming from close or far away, I couldn’t tell. The hush of it was simply in the air, like a hot breath exhaled.

I should have been afraid, want to race out of there, even if I met my end where the sidewalk did. But I stayed put. It may have been dark, too dark to see my own hand before my face; and it may have been quiet, so quiet someone could have been hidden in the shadows observing my every move; but I felt the need to stay.

Soon I’d come to know the space of this dream like I know the house I live in with my mom, the carriage house we rent from the Burkes who live on the other side of the hedge, that little house with its unnecessary closets and stacked cupboards, its creaky steps and crooked doors. But on this night, my first night visiting, I didn’t know what I’d find in this place. Or who.

When the smoke thickened, the oppressively hot air filling my lungs, I began to think I was in danger. That I could die. But no, actually. The dream wasn’t that.

Soon I’d know this dream wasn’t about anyone dying—it was about living on, forever. The house was a place where you could be remembered, even visited. A home for you when you lost your own. If you ran away. If you got taken. If you steered your bike down the wrong dark road.

All the girls ended up here.

When I’d visit on other nights, I’d come to notice the patterns decorating the wallpaper in all the rooms, the prickly vines of climbing, choking ivy. I’d see the gaps in the patterns, the blackened gashes where the rot had licked the walls away.

I’d know the layout of the rooms, even the upstairs, once I got the courage to climb the staircase without fearing it would turn to dust under my weight. There were many bedrooms, all down the hallways; enough rooms to make me wonder how many people had once lived here, how many people could fit here now.

I’d see the other girls there, each of them bound to this place. But that was later.

This was the first night. And the first night I ever had this dream—after I found the flyer with Abby’s face on it—it was Abby I was looking for.

I could sense her, a shrinking, quiet presence breathing from some pocket of darkness. The scent was the same from the van. But stronger, closer. She moved and the floorboards creaked; that’s how I knew she carried weight here. She was substantial here. Here, she was real.

I took a step toward the noise. “Abby? Is that you?” My voice scratched, but sound still came out.

I could make out a figure near a window in the next room. When I’d been standing out on the sidewalk I hadn’t been able to see that there were curtains, but from inside I could see the long, dark sails of the closed drapes. The light was brighter in this room, somehow. The curtains had a sheen that seemed to fight the darkness, folds that could hide bodies, grimy tassels that trailed the floor.

She had her back to me.

Her hair wasn’t matted with leaves and sticks, as it had been in my van—at least, as far as I could tell. The curtains hid her enough so I couldn’t be sure. She felt familiar somehow, in a way I couldn’t pinpoint.

I was trying to reach her through the smoke, because I had questions. Questions like: What is this place and what’s burning? Is she really Abby Sinclair from the Missing poster? Does seeing her here mean she’s dead, or is she still alive? Am I supposed to find her?

But it was a dream. And legs don’t work in dreams the way they’re meant to, and my tongue wouldn’t shape the words collecting in my mouth. All I could get out was “Abby?”

The figure didn’t turn around or make any kind of reply. This told me the answers weren’t there in that scorched house. They were outside, somewhere near Pinecliff, my hometown, waiting for me to go out and find them. And for that, no girl in the smoke could help me.

I’d have to wake up.

THERE it was, down a road I’d driven before. To find it, I only had to hang right at the fork instead of left. From there, the winding road led deep into the pines and the entrance I was seeking was just past a blind bend, marked by a cluster of white firs and a blue sign. Most of the sign was obscured by a fresh covering of snow, hiding the words, so only the cutout of the lady herself rose into the darkening sky, two palms raised as if to catch the drifting flurries. She wore a pale blue head scarf, like the Virgin Mary, and had no face, like a ghost. Behind her was a locked gate as tall as the trees.

This was Lady-of-the-Pines Summer Camp for Girls: a place where people from suburbs and cities sent their daughters. The campground was buried in a valley of mosquitoes, pine trees, and poison oak, skirting the edge of a tepid lake. The mountain ridge cut off a view of what was on the other side, beyond this camp, so the girls—and their parents—would have no idea what stood within miles of them. All that nature they’d spend the summer embracing was closer than they might guess to one of the state’s maximum-security men’s prisons, which housed, last I checked, more than a thousand violent offenders, including murderers, rapists, and child molesters.

According to the Missing flyer, this summer camp was the last place Abby Sinclair had been seen. Here, past the gate and beyond those trees.

I pulled in and cut the engine, but Jamie’s car behind my van almost kept on going. He braked in the road and had to back up, scudding over a snowbank. The snowplows hadn’t made it up here since the latest storm, so all the snow made it difficult to find a place to park. When he was closer, he rolled down his window and called out to me in the cold.

“What’s wrong? Why’d you stop?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” I called back. “Just get out of the car. Come here.”

I was already climbing out of the van and testing my flashlight. Night came sooner in winter, especially up here with the ridge blocking the sun. I knew it could be mere minutes before the dark dropped down all around us, and I wasn’t sure if the electricity would be working on the closed campground during the off-season. Without a flashlight, we’d be out there unable to see.

The flashlight flickered, and I smacked it against my thigh. Light. I waved it at him, signaling to get him out of the car.

“Your engine didn’t die again, did it?” he called.

I shook my head. He didn’t know why we were here. I hadn’t bothered to tell him that the spot I’d wanted him to follow me to wasn’t a restaurant, as I’d insinuated, but this place. Through the gate was a snowed-out road leading in to what I assumed were the main grounds of the camp, where Abby had spent those summer weeks before she vanished. Only that locked chain-link fence was keeping us from it.

Jamie gave me a look I couldn’t read, but he shut off his engine, pulled up his hood, then stepped out into the cold with me.

I pointed the flashlight at the fence opening, indicating the padlock secured by rings of thick chains. “Can you do something about that?” I asked. “So we don’t have to climb over?” I let the light reveal the top of the tall fence, the razor wire glittering in the falling darkness.

“You’re saying I dressed up for nothing, then?” Jamie tugged at the shirt collar under his coat, his one good gray button-down that he might have even ironed for the night out. But he didn’t seem mad about it, I could tell.

Jamie and I had gotten together over the summer (the same summer Abby, mere miles from us, had been swatting away gnats and rowing canoes and singing campfire songs in repetitive round-robins). It happened fast, between Jamie and me.

Before I discovered Abby, and soon the others—before a fundamental piece of who I am shifted to reveal itself inside me, like an iceberg rising up to show its true and monstrous size from the frigid depths of the sea—I’d been the girl Jamie fell for. Whoever that was. It wasn’t so long ago, but she and I were different people now.

He and I were different, too, but I don’t want to forget all the good things about him. Like how he’s fearless when it comes to braving heights, or breaking and entering; he once scaled the side of my house to reach an open window when I’d locked myself out, balancing on a flimsy gutter high up over the backyard, holding on by his fingertips. There was the way he’d go ahead and do something with me, simply because I asked him to. He didn’t need to know why.

Like right then, in the snow. He was lifting the lock to take a look. A puff of his cold breath hung between us, as if reaching out to touch me, but I was just out of range. Just.

There I was, watching flurries fall and catch in his hair, those unruly curls of his poking out from under his hoodie, wishing I could tell him about Abby. But Jamie didn’t believe in things like ghosts. And how do you tell a sane, rational person that you’ve had an encounter with one? That you’ve connected somehow with a girl whose face you found on a poster? A girl who went missing right here? How she’s reaching out to you, you’re sure of it? How she’s trying to communicate something, though you can’t quite make out the message?

I think bringing him with me was my way of telling him—but no matter what screamed out in the dark of my head while we stood there together at the gate, I guess he couldn’t hear if I didn’t open my mouth and let it out.

NO TRESPASSING signs hung on the chain link above us, glowing, practically nuclear, in the night. Snow dusted the shoulders of his green army peacoat, the one from the thrift store that was made for someone much bigger than him (but he wore it anyway, because I got it for him). He was silent for too long; I thought he’d given up and would say we should just go to the restaurant. Then his face lit up.

“So I can’t pick this lock,” he said, with a small smile. “But the chain? It’s busted.” With one hard tug, he got the chain open. The padlock fell into the snow.

Jamie was trying to meet my eyes, and I was trying not to let him. “So what is this place, anyway?” he asked.

“A summer camp, for girls,” I said as I shoved the gate open into a snowdrift. “They close it up for winter, but I wanted to see.”

I didn’t give him the chance to ask why. I pulled him through to the grounds of Lady-of-the-Pines, abandoned for winter, though from the way it looked that night, expanding into the dark distance, it could have been abandoned years ago, before my mom and I moved to the area, before I was even born.

Jamie and I walked along what I guessed was the main path inside. He took my hand. I don’t know what he thought we were doing there—what my intentions were, seeing how cold it was. It was starting then, my need for distance. I could feel this crawling sense in my skin whenever he touched me, the need to put some molecules of air between us. I could feel the cold sweat on his palm and something greasy, like he’d gotten goop on his hands when he was playing with the lock on the gate. There was an ultra-awareness of him, prickling and uncomfortable. Something so much more important was crowding out all thoughts of him.

We passed a shed and a white structure with the words MAIN OFFICE carved in over the wooden door frame. We went slowly, my flashlight exploring anything of interest, no words between us. Paths split off into the trees, the levels of snow lower to give hints of where they started, but not where they led. The quiet, except for our boots swishing through the freshly fallen snow, grew more and more intense.

Jamie startled me when he spoke. “I thought you said this place was closed.”

He’d found a set of prints, or really a series of indents over which the day’s snow had fallen. A small, squat building made of cinder blocks was to our left, and to our right a fenced-in square with a sign noting it as the compost, though whatever had been in there, rotting into the soil months before, was now frozen solid and shrouded in white.

“Probably only an animal,” I said, and as soon as the words left my mouth, a rustling could be heard, fast and loose like someone breaking into a panicked run. Then we saw it wasn’t someone at all—it was something. A fat little creature trundled out from the darkened patch of woods, over a fallen branch, to the edge of the compost, watching us with two yellow eyes as if waiting for the right moment to pounce.

“Is that a—” I started. “Oh, please no. That’s a skunk.”

“It’s a fox,” he said. “I think.” We backed away slowly, putting distance between us and it.

This might have been our only encounter of the night on that vacant campground if the wind hadn't shifted and let me know she was close.

“Do you smell that?” I asked. “Like something’s burning?” It drifted—the scent of fire—from an unknown source. Faint and far-off, but familiar enough to remind me of the dream. Of her. Of how I felt sure they were tangled up together.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for 17 & Gone:

“This is ingeniously crafted” – BCCB, starred review
“Suma writes beautifully, drawing readers into Lauren’s story and her psyche with painstaking care until the story’s jolting conclusion” – Publisher’s Weekly
“A compelling, skillfully written page-turner” – Booklist
“An engrossing read” – VOYA
“Suma’s exquisite sentence-level writing and fine eye for creepy detail are in abundant evidence” – Kirkus Reviews
“Elegant, riveting, powerful, and poignant, this suspenseful, supernatural tale slips under the skin, inking out a haunting tapestry of menace and madness. Nova Ren Suma is, quite simply, a masterful storyteller and one of my favorite writers.”
– Libba Bray, Printz Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of The Diviners and A Great and Terrible Beauty
“17 & Gone is a sharply compelling story of what happens when we stop seeing what’s in front of us and start looking for what’s already gone. Intricately plotted and surreally imagined... Suma breaks reality and twists it back together in a devastating and beautiful new form.”
– Kiersten White, New York Times bestselling author of Paranormalcy and Mind Games

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