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17 by Liz Rosenberg

17

By Liz Rosenberg

Age Range: 14 & up

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-8126-4915-X
Publisher: Cricket

The story of a teen’s sexual coming of age, twinned with her struggles with anorexia and depression, is distinguished from so many of its ilk by an exceptionally fine and precise prose style. Steph is 17, prey to all the usual doubts and insecurities of that age, but her situational angst is compounded by the difficulties attendant upon having a manic-depressive mother. On the days when her artist mother is up, it’s “like coming into a room with party lights on where you had extended a hand forward, frightened, expecting to fall into pitch darkness,” but in Steph’s household, the yawning blackness seems to be much closer to the norm. Absent any real emotional security at home (her father is loving but ineffectual), when Steph begins a romance with the almost frighteningly intellectual Denny, she finds herself becoming more and more unhinged and alone. There is no hint of the cautionary in the deliberate examination of Steph’s first sexual experiences—with the possible exception of an almost hilarious scene where she blurts out her fears of an impossible pregnancy to her grandfatherly history teacher—just a celebration of erotic awakening. This celebration, however, is followed almost immediately by a corresponding awareness of a growing emotional void as her relationship with Denny becomes increasingly joyless. The present-tense narration puts the reader almost claustrophobically into Steph’s increasingly uncomfortable head; its tendency to refer to her much more as “the girl” than by name emphasizes her growing sense of alienation. Steph’s tentative steps back to health are charted as deliberately as her decline. If some subplots—notably a most peculiar one involving Denny’s unfaithful, alcoholic father—do not add to the narrative as a whole, neither do they materially detract. As noted, the story itself is not particularly new—but Rosenberg’s (We Wanted You, 2002, etc.) of telling it is beautifully, hauntingly effective. (Fiction. YA)