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Bittersweet 17

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"When I think about you,
I think about seventeen,
I think about my old Jeep,
I think about the stars in the sky."
Eric Church, "Springsteen"

In their late teen years, at least in the US, kids become no longer kids... but not quite adults.

A character age as device, being explicitly 17 — especially if it's qualified as almost 18 — is used to show when these young adults are in their Coming of Age. They may be aware that they're entering their final throngs of true childhood, thus becoming nostalgic. Of course, being seventeen also offers a semantic sense of not too young nor too old. It's like you can only enjoy this feeling of total freedom — to be given a pass to run wild, and the ability to actually go: like Free-Range Children on steroids — aged seventeen.


It's suggested that seventeen is the age at which people are inherently dichotomous: both a child and an adult, also neither a child nor an adult; being idealistic yet also postulating on mortality (see: The Anti-Nihilist); it's strongly when personal identity solidifies and they find who they are, but also when they feel most lost and searching. In Real Life and in media, expect (all of the above, but in particular) being lost in 'such a vast world' feeling (especially in the more stylistic and thought-provoking age of The New '10s) to actually be part of the person's identity.

Trust this to be the age that people sigh dreamily back at when they turn on their Nostalgia Filter or sing their Ode to Youth. It may also be an important age in the relationship of High-School Sweethearts or someone facing Senior Year Struggles, considering that most teens go off to college around the age of eighteen. Characters that are presently this age, if fitting the trope, will likely be self-reflective about their life and experience some horrific Age-Appropriate Angst. It may be the best but also most regretful age.


This trope to some extent relies upon an equating of physical with emotional maturity. Relevant plot tropes are the Coming of Age Story and both Took a Level in Idealism and Cynicism. See also Nostalgic Narrator, Milestone Birthday Angst (if they dread turning 18).

You might be looking for the unrelated Sweet Sixteen, or the related Bittersweet Ending.


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    Fan Works 
  • In From Bajor to the Black, viewpoint character Kanril Eleya is seventeen when the main narrative begins. In short order she breaks up with her high school boyfriend over him wanting them to go to a religious college together and her intent to enlist in the Bajoran Militia; her father thinks her grown-up, her mother still tells her she's "still just a seventeen-year-old girl" as she boards her flight to boot camp. From there she loses her virginity, earns a medal for valor in combat, and ultimately attends Starfleet Academy and finally becomes captain of a starship.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Dead Poets Society follows a group of 17-year-old students of an all-male strict American board school in the late 50's, who learn to develop their critical thinking skills and develop a thirst of freedom thanks to a new and unorthodox English teacher (played by the late Robin Williams), but at what cost....
  • The Devil's Arithmetic's film adaptation ages Hannah up from twelve to seventeen, allowing for a more significant Break the Haughty when she's sent back in time to the Holocaust and imprisoned in a concentration camp. Her age is meant to show the transition between child and adult, as she's old enough to drive and get a tattoo, but immature and ignorant of her Jewish faith.
  • The Edge of Seventeen: Follows 17-year-old Nadine, who finally realizes that her life hasn't been so happy up to now through a series of unfortunate Wild Teen Parties, and wants to kill herself after retrospectively also realizing that her life has never been as unhappy as it is now, either.
  • Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later has Laurie Strode getting a "Eureka!" Moment - realising that Michael Myers killed their sister Judith at seventeen, and came after Laurie herself when she was seventeen. This means he's now going after her son, who turned seventeen two months ago. John's status as a seventeen-year-old is also marked with him trying to resist his mother's overprotectiveness.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera has a seventeen-year-old ill girl as its protagonist, and the film is her Coming of Age Story as she realises her father has been poisoning her to make her think she's sick when she isn't. She even gets a song called "Seventeen".
  • Scream (1996) in its script confirms that Sidney the Final Girl is seventeen. She has a Broken Pedestal of her dead mother, lets go of her fear of intimacy and fights off two psycho killers.
  • 17 Again: A washed-up divorcee is returned to his 17-year-old body in order to affect change in his life when it was most important.
  • Short Term 12: Marcus is unstable because he's upset at having to leave the facility for at-risk teens once he turns 18.

  • In the Harry Potter books, wizards become adults at 17 (compared to 18 for the real/muggle UK) — this is shown in The Goblet of Fire when the goblet in question will only allow for those 17 or older to come near it. Sure enough, life goes downhill for the Trio after they turn seventeen. Ron is accidentally poisoned on his seventeenth birthday, and Harry's seventeenth birthday is only a day before the Ministry of Magic falls to the Death Eaters and the heroes have to go on the run, missing their final year of education and acting entirely without adult supervision and help for the first time in the series.
  • Daughters of the Moon: On their seventeenth birthday, the titular divinely empowered teenagers have to choose whether to lose their powers and memories of being Daughters or to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence as a guardian spirit. The girls are heartbroken when they realize Jimena, their oldest member, has chosen the first option.
  • The Locked Tomb: Harrow is seventeen in Gideon the Ninth, and deals with such Coming of Age trials as: leaving home for the first time, growing closer to her first crush, and trying to ascend to Lyctorhood to secure the future of her House.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the events of her 17th birthday are in one of the most important episodes in the series. She loses her virginity to Angel, who is said to reverse to his evil self called Angelus when he is the happiest in his life, ie: having sex with Buffy. Buffy would finally realise that Angel is definitely not the man (or Vampire) she liked and realises he must be defeated.
  • Charmed (1998) has an episode where the thirty-year-old Prue gets turned back into her seventeen-year-old self. Despite being known as a responsible parental substitute, this reveals that seventeen was her rebellious phase - and she even ended up with an abusive boyfriend. Reverting to seventeen leaves her open to being seduced by the episode's Monster of the Week.
  • The protagonists of The End of the F***ing World are both seventeen, and run off together, facing the cruel, cynical adult world with some of their childlike innocence and foolishness intact. They go on a crime spree, but are still scared teenagers who are freaking out and don't know what they're doing, so naturally, the police catch up to them rather quickly... right as one of them turns eighteen.
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch first gains her powers at sixteen but, upon turning seventeen, must now study to receive her witch's license. And if she doesn't earn the license, she loses her magic permanently.

  • ABBA's "Dancing Queen". The lyrics suggest how that being 17 is the key to being free in dance, and yet can also be interpreted as retrospectively wishing the singer could be 17, despite how peppy it is:
    "You are the dancing queen,
    Young and sweet, only seventeen.
    You can dance, you can jive,
    Having the time of your life!"
  • Alessia Cara's "Seventeen":
    "I wish I could freeze time at seventeen."
  • Blitzen Trapper "Furr"
    "When I was only 17
    I could hear the angels whispering."
  • Eric Church's "Springsteen", as in the page quote, reminisces upon memories of being "so alive, never been more free" at a concert age 17 brought on by hearing Springsteen again later in life.
  • Circa Waves' "T-Shirt Weather" is yet another song about the unforgettable summer living they loved at this time.
    "Seventeen went far too quick."
  • There's the super angsty song "At Seventeen" by Janis Ian. It's all about how she learned the truth: that only pretty teens get success in the world and ugly kids get left lonely and pining on the edge of adulthood.
  • Kid Rock's "All Summer Long":
    "It was 1989 my thoughts were short my hair was long
    Caught somewhere between a boy and man
    She was seventeen and she was far from in-between
    It was summertime in Northern Michigan."
  • Kygo feat. Selena Gomez "It Ain't Me" is about someone getting drunk and their friend not looking after them because they're not kids anymore:
    "I had a dream, we were back to seventeen,
    Summer nights and The Libertines, never growing up."
  • Marina Diamandis "Seventeen"
    "Could never tell you what happened,
    The day I turned seventeen."
  • Britney Spears "I'm Not A Girl, Not Yet A Woman" discusses not just the confusion of being age seventeen and so neither social construct of girl nor woman, but also asks for a moment to remain in this time of in between.
  • In "It Was a Very Good Year", written by Ervin Drake and best known in a version recorded by Frank Sinatra, a Nostalgic Narrator looks back on the best years of his life. The first he mentions is the year he was seventeen.
    "When I was seventeen
    It was a very good year
    It was a very good year for small town girls
    And soft summer nights."
  • Deana Carter's best known hit was "Strawberry Wine," describing a first experience with love at age seventeen, "caught somewhere between a woman and a child."
  • Marty Robbins sang "She Was Only Seventeen" (NOT to be confused with the song of the same title by Rucka Rucka Ali). The Robbins classic wonders if anybody has the right to tell a teenage couple they're too young to be in love.
  • Brad Paisley's "Letter To Me" is a reflection on what advice he would like to give if he could send a letter back in time to himself at age seventeen.
  • Transviolet's "Girls Your Age" is about a seventeen year old girl who dates older men in their twenties because she desperately wants to be mature and adult.
  • “But the moment that I first laid eyes on him, all alone on the edge of seventeen...”
  • Olivia Rodrigo's song "brutal", she complains that she's tired of being seventeen and of the teen angst that comes with it.
    "And I'm so sick of seventeen
    Where's my fuckin' teenage dream?
    If someone tells me one more time
    "Enjoy your youth," I'm gonna cry"
  • Sharon Van Etten: The aptly-named "Seventeen", where the (now older) singer reminisces on being a fresh-faced seventeen-year-old.
    "I used to be seventeen
    Now you're just like me"

  • Both The Fantasticks and The Sound of Music use age 16 as a dichotomous borderline, allowing the characters of Luisa and Liesl to function as both children and adults in different contexts. The latter also has the song "Sixteen Going on Seventeen," which specifically revolves around this trope.
  • Heathers has a song titled "Seventeen", in which Veronica begs J.D., "Can't we be seventeen?" ask suggests typical teen activities for them to do, such as bowling, eating chili fries, and watching bad movies. Interestingly, seventeen is being used to represent childishness and innocence, in contrast to all the murder they've been doing AT seventeen.
  • Played for Drama in Jasper in Deadland. Jasper is 17, so he's young enough that he has trouble coping when his parents get divorced, but also old enough that everyone acts like it's his own fault for not being able to handle it.
  • Romeo and Juliet's titular Romeo is seventeen, and at this age he falls in love for real with Juliet, as opposed to his obsession with Rosaline. He likewise kills to avenge his best friend, gets banished for doing so and ends up drinking poison to be Together in Death with Juliet.

    Video Games 
  • Golden Sun: At age 14, Isaac's father and Jenna's parents and brother are lost, when thieves break into the village sanctum and set off a trap that causes a giant boulder to fall. Three years later, the thieves return, stealing the Elemental Stars and kidnapping Jenna (Felix now working with them). Isaac and his best friend Garet are sent out to retrieve them, leaving the village for possibly the first time.
  • World of Warcraft: Anduin Wrynn is 17 in Legion, when his father is killed and he becomes King of Stormwind. Word of God actually said they thought 17 was a good age for him to become King — Young enough to still have the "Boy King" aspect of the character, but old enough to understand his duties and have agency in his decisions rather than being a Puppet King who's Kingdom is effectively run by his advisers.
  • The song "Maritime Memory" from Splatoon is a bittersweet ballad that is only supposed to be sung by seventeen year olds. This implies that the otherwise vaguely aged Idol Singers Callie and Marie were seventeen in the first game.
  • The retrievable memories and the diaries of Princess Zelda and King Rhoam in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild show that Zelda went up Mount Lanayru to pray at the Spring of Wisdom on her seventeenth birthday in a last-ditch effort to awaken the Royalty Super Power needed to defeat Calamity Ganon. She couldn't go up there before because people under seventeen are forbidden from doing so. And when she comes back down still unable to awaken that power, Calamity Ganon reemerges from his seal to devastate Hyrule.
  • Cecilia Adlehyde from Wild ARMs leaves Curan Abbey, a magic school, on her seventeenth birthday to begin her royal duties as the princess of Adlehyde. She's less than happy about it as being the princess causes her to question whether people truly care about her as a person or as a symbol. It only gets worse from there. Not only is she The Chosen One who can speak with the Guardians, they warn her that the demons who invaded Filgaia a thousand years ago are getting ready to strike again. Sure enough, they attack her kingdom to get the Tear Drop from her, killing her father in the process. As such she decides she has to do whatever is necessary to get the Tear Drop back, mere days after her birthday. A Bittersweet 17 indeed.

    Web Comics 
  • Sleepless Domain: Mitsuki was seventeen when she got pregnant with Kokoro and lost her powers prematurely when she gave birth to her, eventually leading to her death when a monster attacks her house.

    Western Animation 
  • Invincible (2021): Mark Grayson inherits his father's powers at this age.
  • The Loud House: Lori Loud is the firstborn and eldest of the Loud siblings at 17 years old (18 as of Season 5), and several of the episodes focusing on her involve this trope:
    • Despite reminding her siblings she's eldest, she has a Sickeningly Sweethearts nickname for her boyfriend all the other kids know and use sarcastically: "Boo Boo Bear".
    • In "Party Down", she only allows Leni, Luna and Luan to come to her sophisticated party. She tries to make it an elegant affair, eschewing what she thinks of as childish. The party flops and everyone leaves until Leni posts a photo of fun with the younger sibs. Lori's teen friends weren't ready for a sophisticated adult soiree.
    • In "Driving Miss Hazy", Lori has been lording being eldest and the only licensed driver over the other kids so they band together to help ditzy Leni get her license. Lori becomes insecure that the kids won't need her anymore and sabotages Leni.
    • In "Garage Banned", Lori decides she needs her own space to get away from the chaos of 10 siblings. She realizes it's lonely and scary on her own and contrives to get back in the house without admitting her decision was hasty.
    • In "The Loudest Mission: Relative Chaos", when she finds out that Bobby is not returning to Royal Woods, she has a Freak Out and drives Lincoln to demand answers. After several abortive attempts to trick or convince Bobby to come back, she gives up and breaks down into Inelegant Blubbering. Bobby explains his plan, and Lori comes around, maturely realizing they'll only be apart for a year until university... and that his plan will let them be together long term.
    • In "Change of Heart", Lori is caught between hating Clyde's obsessive crush, and wanting the attention because it boosts her self-esteem.

    Real Life 
  • In the UK, 17 is the first birthday one celebrates after reaching the age of majority, which is set at 16. It's also the minimum age for you to be eligible for a provisional driving license, and thus be able to begin learning to drive a motor vehicle.
  • In the USA, 17 is the age at which one may rent/buy M-rated video games and R-rated movies.
    • This is probably invoked by the teenage magazine simply called seventeen.
  • One Frisky article, written by a procrastinating 21-year-old looking back at life after their last significant birthday, asserts that "Seventeen is the media world's go-to age of bittersweet reminiscence."
  • Another 21-year-old writes about their faith in the phenomenon from Notre Dame University as an academic think-study:
    "According to the myriad references to being 17, the age isn't just one year in a life, but a symbol for growing up and all that comes with it. To be 17 is to be innocent but experienced, bold but afraid, naive but jaded or beautiful but lonely. The age, in the American psyche, is much more than the number of candles on a cake or a three-syllable word that's catchy to sing — it's the ultimate time of transition and change. Age 17 is the lynchpin in a lifespan, holding together all of the opposites and contradictions exposed or created with age.
    Or maybe it's none of these things, and being 17 isn't so special at all. One thing is for certain: an age has never sounded so good."