Haunted at 17

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on March 22, 2013 in Anecdote |


Nova Ren Suma’s new novel 17 & Gone released yesterday and she’s been running a blog special featuring what other YA authors were haunted by at age 17. I loved, loved, loved her novel Imaginary Girls and am super excited to be attending one of her workshops at the upcoming New England SCBWI writing conference in May. So without further ado, here’s what haunted me at 17:

The Best Years Of My Life?

I’d always heard people say the high-school years were the best of their lives. I never believed it. Not until I was 17 and heading into my senior of high school…and my life was, well, pretty perfect.

If I’d learned anything from books and TV, the teenage years were supposed to be filled with angst and rebellion. Sure, I’d had my moments of getting in trouble for staying out late at parties and the drama of ex-boyfriends hooking up with (soon-to-be-ex) friends. Moments that were all-consuming when they were happening, but in my bliss of seniordom, they were dark blips on the otherwise bright radar of my future.

kt_class_pic_sept.99On the precipice of senior year, I was a standout athlete, poised to graduate with a perfect 12 varsity letters (one each year in soccer, basketball, and track). An honor student, and on track to graduate in the top 5% of my class. A member of the student council, a volunteer at the hospital (right down to the horrible candy-striped outfit and white Keds), and a senior editor on the school newspaper. My resume would make any stereotypical world-hating teenager throw up stolen vodka all over her Doc Martens.

Oh, and I had just starting dating a guy I’d had been crushing on for the last several months. We worked together at the local hardware store. He was a long-lashed, quiet, super-smart college guy. Not my usual jock fare. We engaged in long, intellectual conversations about movies, science documentaries on the Discovery Channel, music, and life. And the only anxiety I had when kissing him was worrying about whether my lips felt too rough on his delectably soft ones. (Seriously, why don’t all guys use Chapstick? Soft lips are in no way reserved for women.) We were still at the tingly new relationship phase, where every touch zinged with energy and excitement.

Yeah. Life was pretty perfect…maybe a little too perfect.


My senior night during basketball season. On the left is my sister Kylene during her freshman year of high school. Lucky #13 is me at 17.

As winter and basketball season approached, I struggled to keep my mini panic attacks from becoming noticeable. What if my one poor grade in pre-calculus junior year tarnished my transcripts? What if I didn’t get into my top college? Or any college? What if my relationship was too good to be true and he dumped me out of the blue?

Looming bigger than all that trepidation, though, the worst fear of all haunted me: What if high school truly was the peak of my life? What if 17 & Perfect turned into 18 & Past My Prime? What if when I was 40 and married (divorced?), I’d spend all my time reminiscing with the other sad, middle-aged women over “the good old days” and vicariously living through my own high-school aged kids? What if the next 60+ years merely consisted of a slow, steady decline into bitterness? Were these really the best years of my life?

Seems even then, when things were going well, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. The biggest shoe of all didn’t drop until I was 19 and my sister died, but it’s been a steady uphill (with a few bumps along the way) since then. At least at the ripe age of 30 (what an old lady my 17-year old self is saying), I can say each year brings in new highs and lows, as does each decade. I don’t think I’ll ever be over the fear of the good times running out, but I can definitely say while the high-school years brought me some wonderful memories, they certainly weren’t the best of my life.

What haunted you at 17?

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  • Mirka Breen says:

    Awesome, Katie. Just like you.
    Lovely to see your sister. I hope someday you will find a way to share more about how she died, even in fiction. Death of one so close (and so young) is not a common experience anymore.
    Our lives are made of hills and valleys.

    At seventeen all I could think of was that I had to leave home… Mine was not such a cozy one. I did, in fact, only a year later.

  • You look the same and I love seeing your sister. So glad you figured out that right where you are is the best place to be. ((((Hugs))))

    • I always like to include pictures of Ky on the blog, helps me to feel like she’s still having an impact on the world. I can’t believe how young I look in that picture! Thanks for thinking I still look young. 🙂 HUGS!

  • Elle Druskin says:

    So nice to see that photo

  • Thanks for sharing your story, Katie. At 17, I had a very similar resumé to yours, then my life fell apart and morphed into a devastating nightmare most people find hard to hear. I turned that horror story into fiction and won an SCBWI WIP grant for it. What happened still haunts me, but time has made it less scary, less painful. Someday that story will sell and my worst moment will turn into $.

    I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a sister. Thanks for sharing that beautiful photo.

    • I think those bad times and experiences shape who we are as people, and in turn have a huge impact on the writers we become. The emotions of losing my sister, although diminished somewhat over time, have stayed with me and permeate my writing in ways I can’t even articulate.

  • High school was definitely not the best years of my life. University was. Seems like it was one big social event. I loved it.

    • Ann Herrick says:

      So sorry about the loss of your sister. It is very difficult losing a sibling, especially at a young age.

      While I had fun with my friend in high school, that time was not the best of my life, thank goodness!

      There are ups and downs at all stages of life. The thing to do is to enjoy as much as you can while you can, IMHO. 🙂

    • College was a much more serious time in my life than high school. I was footing the bill for a good chunk of my college tuition, so I focused a lot on my studies.

      • Call me Ishmael says:

        Wow, so much to comment on – where do I begin? First of all, you look pretty much the same now as in those two pics, and lookit your & Ky’s matching bangs!

        You had panic attacks at 17? I never would’ve guessed. And yes, you would’ve made the 17-year-old me puke. *Tips for teens* Just take a little bit from each bottle, into plastic containers that can be tossed out – nobody ever knew my thievery. Mwahahaha!

        At 17, nothing really haunted me. I did fine in school but wasn’t an overachiever by any means, so I was preparing to go to college, and looking forward to new experiences and all that jazz. I wonder sometimes if people who were superstars in high school feel that grownup life is a letdown. Big fish in a small pond become small fish in a big pond.

        So, since you were concentrating on your studies in college, does that mean you were only in three soccer leagues instead of four?

        Oh, and lastly, congrats on getting EB into paperback form!

        • Always nice to hear from you, Ishmael. Teens…don’t listen to this nefarious seaman…underage drinking is bad!

          There’s always time for soccer, even when busy with school.

          And, thanks regarding the paperback! Still super excited about it!

  • Katie,

    I wanted to thank you again for sharing this Haunted at 17 story—and for helping me celebrate the book release! This is a beautiful, so moving.

    I can’t wait to meet you at NESCBWI, and tell you thank you in person.

    All my best,

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