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Friday, July 19, 2013

Book Review: Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown

Book Type: YA lit, "issue" books, sexting

Stereotype Alert: Whiny pants. 

Cover Art: Attack of the Big Face! Also: "Ugh.  So bored right now."

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Uh, none? 

Character Score: 2 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Ashleigh has a pretty great life: awesome boyfriend, awesome best friend, and cool parents.  But when she and her boyfriend Kaleb start growing apart before he's scheduled to leave for college, Ashleigh thinks she may need to take a bold step in order to keep his mind off of all those college girls.  Once Ashleigh texts Kaleb a naked photo of herself, neither of their lives will ever be the same.

X-Factor: hot topic (no, not the store)


Stereotype Alert: Ashleigh is kind of a Whiny McWhiny-pants. I know that teenagers can be really full of themselves and really upset about how unfair things are, but I guess I just felt like Ashleigh didn't ring as true as some of Brown's other characters. 

Cover Art: Cue the Big Face, as Forever Young Adult would say.  Also, this girl just looks sooooo bored!  Like, ugh.  I'd like it better if there was a photo somewhere on the cover.  As in, a photo of a photo since that's what this book is about.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Book, I was soooo not into you.  So much so that I can't even play my own little stupid game with myself.  I didn't want to kill anyone, with the possible exception of Kaleb (grow up, dude) but I didn't want to marry anyone or jump in anyone's pants either.  Meh.

Character Score: Again I say: Meh.  I think Brown does great things with characters... just not in this particular book.

What's the Story?: Ashleigh Maynard has a pretty great life. In the summer before her Junior year she has a great best friend, a sweet boyfriend, a place on the cross-country team and a decent relationship with her parents. While at her best friend Vonnie's great summer bash, a drunken Ashleigh is starting to feel really bummed that her boyfriend Kaleb keeps ditching her to play baseball and hang out with his friends. Soon, a few friends have convinced Ashleigh that she should send him a naked photo of herself- you know so he doesn't forget her when he goes off to college in the fall. After all, lots of people do it. Before she can think twice, Ashleigh has snapped the pic and sent the text to Kaleb.

Flash forward a few months. Kaleb has gone off to college and Ash finds that he is still pulling away from her. She tries to call him but keeps accusing him of sleeping with college girls. Finally, Kaleb has had enough and comes home one weekend to break up with Ashleigh. Things get out of hand and before Ashleigh knows what is happening the great boyfriend she used to love has turned into a spiteful, mean individual.

Then the whispers start. At first, Ashleigh has no idea what the guys at school are talking about. Until a friend tells Ashleigh that her nude photo is being passed around the entire school via text. Someone even added her name and phone number to the bottom of the photo and now she is getting all kinds of sick and mean texts from people. What is going on? How did the photo get out? Kaleb would never do something like that...would he?

In a whirlwind of chaos, Ashleigh is suspended from school, arrested for "distributing child pornography" and in order to set an example, she is forced to do 60 hours of community service with a bunch of other teens who have messed up. Sure, she made a really stupid mistake by taking that picture, but she never intended for anyone but Kaleb to see it. Why has Vonnie suddenly ditched her? And why is everyone making her out to be a criminal? The saying goes that a "picture is worth a thousand words" but it may not tell the whole story.

Thousand Words is a book for those of you who like realistic stories. Told between flashbacks and Ashleigh's daily life spent doing community service, you get to piece the story together while seeing all of the confusion inside her head. Technology may make our lives easier, but as Jennifer Brown shows, once something is out in cyber space, it stays in cyber space.

 X-Factor: Jennifer Brown tackles yet another hot topic in her newest YA novel.  Hot topic.  Am I the only one who now has the "Burning down the Hot Topic" song from South Park stuck in my head?  Just me?  Ok then.  But seriously, I would TOTALLY have read this when I was a teenager.  I looooooved "issue" books: drug addiction, abuse, rape, eating disorders, crime- the more intense, the more enthralled I became.  These books were so far from my boring existence that I almost couldn't believe that people lived these sorts of lives.  And lots of teens today have the same fascination that I did. 

Here's my PSA: This is a serious topic.  With the invention of the internets, life has become a whole lot more complicated.  The things you do or say are out there forever (or until someone fries everything with a well-placed EMP.  Whichever comes first).  Barring any extreme terrorist acts, stupid things that people do will live on forever via the net.  It's a damn good thing that cell phones didn't have cameras and video when I was a teen.  I'm not saying that I would have sent nude photos all over the place but... if nothing else, I probably would have gotten a lot of other people's stupid acts on video.  And I probably wouldn't have listened to any adults saying "This stuff is out there forever, you can't take it back!" But damn.  Kids will be kids to an extent, and I know you gals out there want to look sexy for your boyfriends.  But do you really want to take a risk that a college, future employer or *gasp* even your kids could someday possibly see you naked?  Like, full-frontal naked.  Seriously.  Keep it in your pants.  Or if absolutely necessary, keep it in your pants until you are absolutely sure that there are no phones or cameras around. 

Alrighty, that bit of preaching aside, this was not my favorite Jennifer Brown book.  Nobody does issue books like her and if you haven't read her award-winning novel Hate List yet you certainly should do so.  Jennifer is even a pretty awesome person.  I was in contact with her to see if she would Skipe with a teen book group after we read her novel and she said she would!  For free!  (Unfortunately, I never got to do the book group because it was just a bit to racy for the library I was in at the time).  But this book?  Skip it.  I will await her next work with anticipation tinged with skepticism.


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