Thousand Words: review

May 21, 2013 2013, 3.5 star books, jennifer brown, realistic fiction, Wendy 60

thousand words jennifer brown

Title: Thousand Words
Author: Jennifer Brown
3.5 out of 5 stars
Release Date:
May 21, 2013
Publisher: Little Brown
Age Group: YA
Source: ARC provided by the publisher

Living in the digital age is fantastic–we use smartphones and computers to get information and stay in touch, and to share in a way that wasn’t possible not too long ago. But the speed and efficiency at which news travels can be a huge drawback when you’ve made a mistake–or when someone decides to use your information against you.

Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown is somewhat of a modern cautionary tale. Ashleigh is caught up in a sexting scandal when, in a moment of weakness, she sends a naked photo of herself to her boyfriend Kaleb. When the two of them go through an ugly break-up, her ex decides to circulate the photo to his friends. She’s mortified, especially since her father is the school superintendent and she feels guilty on top of feeling embarrassed.

The blurb made me a little wary, because it sounds as though the book could be After School Special-ish or too neat in the way things wrap up, especially in mentioning a boy who (of course!) didn’t look at the circulated photo. But it’s good to find that this story was told in a non-preachy, non-sensationalist way: Ashleigh’s relationship with her friends and parents is well-portrayed, the parents’ concern for the bigger picture was realistic, the developing friendship with Mack is slow to unfold and solid (and thank heaven, there’s no forced romance), and I really liked that there weren’t any neat and tidy ends, particularly in Ashleigh’s interactions with Kaleb. And I loved Mack’s twist on the “A picture tells a thousand words” phrase.

What I didn’t realize going into this story was that teenagers who send naked photos of themselves can actually be charged with distributing child pornography. Ashleigh is already humiliated by her ex-boyfriend’s actions, but now she also has community service to fulfill. While I’m all for educating kids who find themselves in this position, I agree with this blog post; such charges seem like further punishment for something these kids will already have to live with for the rest of their lives.

There are a few things that I think could have made the story stronger: the shifting timelines were sometimes confusing to me, and I wish the book had spent more time talking about the emotional effect this would have on someone at the center of the storm. Victims of this behavior don’t just experience embarrassment, they can suffer devastating long term damage from a momentary lapse in judgment.  But the author’s note at the end provides interesting background to her drive in writing the story, and I especially appreciate her comments that “One bad decision does not an identity make” and “how we handle the fallout is what matters most.” I couldn’t agree with those statements more.

“That’s the thing,” I said. “He didn’t apologize. Not really. He said he was sorry for how things turned out, and he talked about how bad it’s been for him, but he never really said anything specific, you know?” And I realized that was probably what bothered me about my meeting with Kaleb the most. You could have plugged that apology into pretty much any situation and it would have worked. It was as good as saying nothing at all.” 

The takeaway from this book is this: our actions have consequences, and so do our words. As our world becomes increasingly more plugged in, Thousand Words comes along at just the right moment in our culture. I cannot imagine a more timely and relevant topic of discussion for YA readers.

This review also appears on GoodReads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher. 


Further Reading:

Here are a few articles that readers might find illuminating. While Thousand Words doesn’t focus on circumstances as extreme as some of those featured below, the first article provides sobering insights into how highlight how easy–and common–it is for kids and teens to engage in questionable behavior. The second shows the destructive, lasting effects on kids who have been victimized. The third features a woman who went through a similar sexting scandal to the one described in this book.

Through His Webcam, A Boy Joins a Sordid Online World 

The Price of a Stolen Childhood: How Much Can Restitution Help Victims of Child Pornography?

A Victim Speaks: Standing Up to a Revenge Porn Tormentor


What Are Your Thoughts?

Have any of you experienced or witnessed a scandal like the one described in this book? Are you interested in reading this? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

60 Responses to “Thousand Words: review”

  1. A Canadian Girl

    I’ve never read any of Brown’s books but they all seem like they’re thoughtfully written contemps that aren’t preachy. I really like the message of this one, Wendy.

    Oh, I had no idea that a teen sexting a picture of themselves can actually be charged with child porn!

    • Wendy Darling

      This is my first Brown book, Z, but I’m definitely curious about her others. While I did think there were some missed opportunities, I do like that she seems to approach interesting subjects in a thoughtful way.

      And III know, isn’t it crazy? I had no idea either!

  2. Renae M.

    Jennifer Brown is one of my favorite YA contemporary authors, but I’ve been nervous since I’ve found that I like her earlier books better than her newer ones. Hearing that sexting, such a relevant topic to today, was treated respectfully and in a non-preachy way is great. I don’t tend to be a big fan of shifting timelines, though, so that might be a negative to my reading experience. Overall, though, I’m definitely looking forward to this one!

    • Wendy Darling

      This is the first JB book I’ve read, Renae–it’s actually good to hear that you think certain books of hers are better than others, because it’s hard to gauge based on this one book whether I’d be really enthusiastic about the others. I mean, I liked this and thought it had a lot of merit, but I wasn’t wild over it, you know? But I know a lot of friends have her on their favorites list, so I’ll try out an earlier book sometime. (Although the book I already have is, of course, her previous one. *sigh*)

  3. Michelle

    This sounds very interesting, and you’re right, it is something which teens really need to consider in today’s world. It’s scary how many young teens have heaps of online profiles and one bad decision can influence so much later on. I’m sad to hear the emotional issues weren’t fully explored, but I’m really interested so I’ll definitely give it a go! Great review Wendy :)

    • Wendy Darling

      I know, it’s a really scary prospect. I mean, it’s scary as adults knowing how much can go terribly wrong, but I’m afraid for these kids who just go blithely about their business with no idea, it seems.

  4. Margo Berendsen

    Love the way the title refers to a picture is worth a thousand words. Good to get the word out about this danger… glad to hear it wasn’t sensationalized

    • Wendy Darling

      I’ll tell you the way the phrase is later adapted in this book, which I really appreciated.

      “A picture tells a thousand words…”

      and then someone then adds to it

      “…but it doesn’t tell the whole story.”

      Which I thought was great.

  5. Sara @ Forever 17 Books

    My first thought when I heard of this book was how important of a read this could be at the present time with social media what it is. I tend to avoid this type of book purely because for me, I feel like it would bring up bad HS memories (not that this happened to me) but I’m glad you were able to enjoy it. :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Agreed, I think I’d recommend this more to teenagers and parents of teenagers as a “hey, you should think about this” book more than anything else. A GoodReads friend told me sexting is addressed very sternly at her daughter’s school, but I wonder how common that really is?

  6. Faye M.

    You’re right, Wendy; it’s definitely something relatable to many people nowadays. I’m kind of afraid to read it because I had a very close friend who was a victim of this malicious activity, and it was very painful for me to see her go through it. I’ll still check it out sometime this year, though, especially since you speak so highly of it!

    Faye @ The Social Potato

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh dear, I’m so sorry to hear that re: your friend, Faye. The internet is a scary place sometimes, I hope she’s okay.

  7. Tanja - Tanychy

    I’ve seen this book around and honestly I don’t think I’ll read it. I can’t get why would somebody send naked pics. That’s the cliche of all cliches. Great review Wendy :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Subject matter definitely isn’t for everyone, Tanja. And let’s just say I understand why other people do it, but I can’t imagine ever doing it myself, hah.

  8. Sunny Duvall

    I agree with Jen ^ It sounds tough and I probably wouldn’t have picked it up, but after your review…now I think I will.

  9. starryeyedjen

    You know, I never would have even considered picking up this book if not for this review. I was wary of the story thanks to that blurb, too, but I’m glad it’s a bit grittier than some after-school special. Going to have to give this one a second look.

    • Wendy Darling

      Thoughtful, at least….not sure about gritty. ;) It’s definitely not written in a titillating way, though. I’d be very curious to hear what you think of this one, Jen.

  10. Amy

    What a wonderful review Wendy. Also all of the additional links and information you added is great. This is a book that I definitely want to read, and I think it’s very important subject matter for teenagers and adults. Especially teenagers who don’t really think about the consequences of their actions. (Not that all adults do either, but you know what I mean.)

    The article for the 23 year old is so horrible. My heart goes out to her. I had to stop reading the comments though. Some were infuriating.

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m glad you’re interested in reading this, Amy–I know you enjoy contemporaries, and I think it’s right up your alley. I think it’s such an interesting subject, and while not entirely a perfect book, it definitely provokes a lot of thought.

      Ugh, I know–I try not to read comments on articles like that. So many people seem to be deliberately, willfully blind to other people’s pain.

  11. Rachel

    I find it utterly ridiculous that a teen can be charged with distributing child porn by taking a naked photo of themselves and sending it. I find it’s adding insult to injury for the authorities to actually take on cases like the one this this story and prosecute! Hasn’t this girl gone through enough humiliation! Gosh, it just ticks me off! With so much injustice in the world, this is what the authorities focus on and prosecute?!! Ugh!

    I read the article you attached about the 23yr old!! How completely awful for her, and some of the comments are just infuriating!

    Lovely and informative review, Wendy! :)

    • Wendy Darling

      “Insult to injury” is right. And yes, you’d think they’d have better things to spend their time on enforcing and prosecuting! At the same time, I think it’s important to have guidelines for kids and to educate them–I’m just not sure how that’s best done. But treating them like criminals over something like this (and again, I’m referring to Ashleigh, not the ex or the kids who circulated the photo) doesn’t seem to be the answer.

      Yeah, I really wanted to share those articles. I read a ton more on this subject, but I spared you the bulk of them. ;)

  12. Kim (YA Asylum)

    It’s good to hear there isn’t forced romance. I’ve been running into that a lot lately. I was worried this might be an After School special as well. I had no idea that teen could be charged for sending a naked picture! In this situation, that’s just horrific. You’re right, it really is just like giving her further punishment.

    I’m still not sure if I’ll read this one. I just feel so bad for Ashleigh and the horrible/awkward situation she’s put in … and I’m not sure if I can handle all of that. Something about tension that’s sparked from feeling embarrassed for a character makes me uncomfortable. But the book does sound interesting, and I’m glad the topic was handled well.

    Great review, Wendy.

    • Wendy Darling

      III know, it’s like people think every YA book has to have a romance. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good romance, but it doesn’t always have to be there, especially if there’s no chemistry, etc.

      Thanks for stopping by, Kim!

  13. Andrea @The Bookish Babes

    I love Brown’s writing and really wanted up take this for review, but couldn’t fit it in. I don’t this the points of this story can be stressed strongly enough to teens. Now, I’m not saying that I would have ever sent a picture like Ashleigh’s, but it’s a good thing no one had cell phones when I was a teen. Bad decisions & little impulse control + cell phone = disaster.

    Lovely review, Wendy!

    • Wendy Darling

      I don’t think it can be stressed strong enough either, Andrea–I really wish there were PSAs or more education on this matter for kids. I don’t really know what’s being addressed in schools or at home as far as cyber activity is concerned (and yeah, I’m lumping telephone shenanigans in with that now), but it’s clearly not enough.

      Agreed on that formula. *sigh*

  14. Bookworm1858

    I think this book is so timely and I’m really interested to give it a read for myself although I wish you had given it a higher rating. Love the quote you highlighted about Kaleb’s “apology”-looking forward to checking this one out!

    • Wendy Darling

      Well, I wish I could have given it a higher rating too! But it was missing a degree of emotion and complexity that would have pushed the rating up, Bookworm. Still, an interesting read, and one I’d recommend.

      That quote really resonates with me, too. It’s applicable to a lot of bullshit PR apologies that we see all too often.

  15. Savannah Bookswithbite

    Oh and just to be clear, I saying that what they did is right. All I’m saying is that when your a teen you do stupid, dumb things. I don’t think its something that has to follow you for the rest of your life. You should be given a chance to start clean and live a good life.

  16. Savannah Bookswithbite

    I think this a book I need to pick up soon. And yeah, kids can be charged and thats the part where I think takes it too far. At that point your a teenager doing something dumb. But once you grown up, that charge will still be on your record. How are you supposed to get a decent job and explain that charge? Yeah, your a teenager and did something dumb but I think there needs to be a new law apply to teens in this matter.

    • Wendy Darling

      I think you’d find this one interesting, Savy, particularly as a parent. I agree that the punishment doesn’t fit the lapse in judgment, for the girl who sent the photo herself, at least–for the kids who participated in circulating it, I think there should be punishment, but you’re right, it does a grayer area when the kids have to register as sex offenders and such. A scandal like this, while horrible, isn’t on the same level as other forms of child pornography necessarily–I just hope the real life cases are being judged with some degree of compassion. And goodness, let’s get some education for these kids on this subject, you know?

  17. Lauren @ Love is not a triangle

    This isn’t a book that I would automatically gravitate towards, but I really like that it is a prevalent, real life issues that is presented in a realistic way. And that it is also translatable to other areas of life. Books with specific messages that are hidden in engaging stories are sometimes hard to find, and it’s nice to see that this does a good job at that. I also had no idea that teens could be prosecuted for it as well. I’ll need to look into that, because it seems odd if it is you sending a picture of yourself? Though I get that it is a practice that needs to be stopped. Anyway, really thoughtful review.

    • Wendy Darling

      Honestly…it’s not something I’d automatically be drawn towards either, but I’ve heard good things about this author so I thought this would be a good place to start.

      I actually wrote my review thinking about not just sexting, but about the way information in general is shared and sometimes abused online. Privacy is a big issue, and unfortunately, not everyone seems to be respectful of that.

      And yeah, I had no idea that sending photos of yourself if you’re underage could lead to those kinds of consequences. I think it’s a (somewhat) new problem that they’re trying to deal with, and legislature doesn’t always get it right or perfect on the early rounds. Unfortunately.

  18. Candace

    I have a copy of this and have been meaning to read it but well, you know how it goes… too many books and not enough time to read them all! I’m glad that this one ended up being a pretty decent read. To me it sounded a bit familiar, like I’ve already read it. But it sounds like she makes it her own. And I think these stories are important cautionary tales for teens. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    • Wendy Darling

      Well, you should probably factor in that I hadn’t read a book about this topic before, although April from Good Books and Good Wine said a few comments above yours that, having read others, this didn’t bring too much that was new to the table. So…just depends, as always, on your own experience. I hope you find it an interesting read when you get around to it!

  19. Mary @ BookSwarm

    This sounds fabulous! With social media and the way teens take pictures of EVERYTHING these days, I can totally see this happening and how horrible the consequences can be. In fact, we’ve had issues with Instagram and Tumblr because teens post everything, with no thought to how it might effect them.

    (And, just so you can join me in my pain: my students recently told me they had no idea what I meant when I mentioned “Afterschool Special” to them. *sigh* I love working with teens but they make me feel ancient some days.)

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh yeah, even when it’s not outright naked photos, I’ve seen things that have made me cringe on the poster’s behalf. People get so comfortable online that they sometimes forget that not everyone who views their stuff has their best interests at heart.

      And Mary…tell me about it! I hesitated about using that reference, hah. But I figured we’re a blog for adults anyway. :P

  20. Karen

    I liked this book and it’s such a great topic to address with all the horrible stuff we read about in the news but somehow it just didn’t pack the emotional punch that I hoped it would.

    I can’t even really put my finger on exactly why it didn’t. I would still recommend it though. Especially that there isn’t a standard love interest solving everything plot.

    • Wendy Darling

      I actually agree, Karen–if it had gone more into the emotional aspects of the aftermath, it might’ve gotten a 4 rating from me. But yeah, I’m glad the friendship with Mack didn’t turn into one of those HERE IS THE SOLUTION things.

  21. Nicola

    A very topical issue! I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this, have been since I first read the description a while back!

    • Wendy Darling

      I hope you get a chance to read it soon, Nicola! It’s an interesting subject for sure, and a very current one. It seems like we get new stories every day about people getting caught up in similar scandals. (And a lot of them are old enough to know better, frankly.)

  22. Bonnie R

    I would have guessed this would lean towards preachy way too. WOW, I had no idea about individuals being charged for doing that. Of themselves?? That seems overkill because you’re right, that is already something that that person is going to have to live with forever. Not necessarily the storyline, but the ‘moral of the story’ reminds me a lot of Speechless by Hannah Harrington. Not sure if this is for me but great review as always. :)

    Bonnie @ Sweet Tidbits

    • Wendy Darling

      I know, isn’t it crazy? I had to reread a few paragraphs when it was first introduced in the book, and then jump online immediately to see if it was true.

      I can totally see the SPEECHLESS comparison, too. I think Hannah Harrington does a better job of characterizations, and making you feel all the things, but certainly I’m glad I read this one.

  23. Neyra

    That’s what scares me about technology and people nowadays, some don’t seem to have a sense of self respect, or trust the wrong person, etc. With computers, phones, iPods and the like we are becoming increasingly closer to having our privacy out in the web, and unfortunately like they say, The Internet is Forever. I am curious to read this story, and by the looks of it Wendy, it was enjoyable. Great review (:

    • Wendy Darling

      I think there’s definitely a lack of judgment in trusting the wrong people, and sometimes insecurity or self-respect can play into that, too. We’re living in a culture that thrives on technology, but I think there are a lot of people, many of them kids raised on a diet of internet and selfies, that fail to think before they act.

      I read this book pretty quickly, Neyra, and I do think it’s an interesting book overall. Thanks for stopping by!

  24. Liviania

    Sounds like an interesting story, although not one I’m interested in.

    I do think the line between distributing child porn and underage sexting is blurring, but that a teenager taking a naked selfie definitely isn’t a child pornographer. (A significant other distributing the photo without consent? Blurry. Is the boyfriend in trouble with the law?)

    • Wendy Darling

      Yeah, the boyfriend is definitely in trouble with the law. And at 18, he’s technically an adult, so it gets fuzzy. We don’t really find out much of what happens beyond a certain number of months in the aftermath, but I kind of liked that about the book–I don’t know that anyone ever really gets definitive closure anyway, and that feeling seemed realistic to me.

  25. Jen Ryland/YA Romantics

    Strangely enough, I’ve read several books with a similar premise.
    I think I liked Going Underground by Susan Vaught and Good Girls by Laura Ruby a little better than this book — or maybe it was the fact that the premise didn’t seem as new to me after reading those. But it did make me want to check out Jennifer Brown’s other books…

    • Wendy Darling

      Thanks for those recommendations, Jen, I may have to check those out sometime. I hadn’t seen this topic covered before in YA, but I should have known there were others!

      This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and I think I’d try another one.

  26. Keertana

    Like you, Wendy, I saw that there was so much room for disaster in this, but I’m glad it wound up being written very poignantly. I’m not sure if the subject matter is something I want to read about, but I’ll be sure to check it out when I have some time. It seems worth it. Great review, dear! :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Well…I wouldn’t say “poignant” exactly, though I did feel bad for her. I’d say this is an interesting discussion book more than anything else, since it doesn’t go as deeply emotionally or story-wise as I would have liked. But still, it was an engrossing read for me and as a bonus, certainly provided an education I wasn’t expecting.

  27. Julie@My5monkeys

    I loved this book and the message that it came across about sexting.

    In this day and age and with kids being minors, sexting is dangerous and the consequences are not always like this book portrayed. I would have liked too have seen the emotional repercussions too. I know that teens do this do, and there is fall out from it. technology can be good and bad.

    • Wendy Darling

      Yeah: don’t do it! Hah.

      Sexting is potentially dangerous for anyone, but especially minors, who aren’t always equipped with the judgment and experience to handle these sorts of situations. Or to judge other people. Or to handle the aftermath.

  28. April (BooksandWine)

    I just wrote my review of Thousand Words yesterday, but it does not go up until some time in June. Personally, I felt that it went into After School Special territory, but that’s just me and my opinion ha. I do think she did a good job providing education about an important issue, but I thought some of it was a bit cheesy. Alas.

    I did know that teens could get in trouble for that and I really think that the law should be publicized more, so that teens know the consequences of engaging in that sort of behavior. Like, I think it’s good that there are laws against sending nude pics of yourself when you are under a certain age. Anyways, I am not sure where I was going with this, but good review — very thorough. I’ll have to check out the articles you linked as we..

    • Wendy Darling

      Hah, maybe it’s because I went into the book sort of wary that I had more positive feelings about it? Certain things definitely could have been explored more, though I don’t think it veered into “cheesy” territory for me.

      THESE THINGS SHOULD TOTALLY BE PUBLICIZED MORE! I had no idea, so I was taken aback when I read that. I know these laws are in place to protect young teens and kids, but I just hope that there’s a counseling approach to it rather than outright judgment/punishment. The message it sends, on top of all that these poor kids are already going through, seems pretty harsh.

      Anyway, I look forward to your review, April! I rated it 3.5, which reflects my overall liking for it, but I don’t disagree that it could have been stronger as well. But the discussion it brings up makes it worthwhile reading nonetheless, imo.

  29. Meg

    Thanks for the review. I hadn’t heard of this one. And I had no idea that teenagers could get in legal trouble of sending pictures of themselves … that seems crazy and not helping the actual problem.

    My feeling is that with sexting, and virtual bullying, is that it is too easy to write harmful things or send harmful pictures because using the middle man of technology makes teenagers feel removed from the actual person who is going to get hurt. Sending a naked picture of yourself makes yourself vulnerable in a way that it wasn’t back when you had to print it and send it via snail mail.

    • Wendy Darling

      I don’t know where I’ve been, because that totally came as news to me, too!

      And yes, I wrote this whole paragraph on anonymity and how the ease of our technology are factors in these sorts of things. I agree, as we’ve advanced digitally, we’ve also become more vulnerable.

  30. Lexxie Lin

    Both sexting and the fact that it’s so easy for kids to take and send their own photo to people really scares me! I try my best to educate my children, but you never know when they will get a little carried away…

    Great review, and I will read this, even if there are some problems with it. Thanks for the review, Wendy :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Yeah, it seems like we’re bombarded every day with stories similar to what happened i this book. Even less scandalous than that, kids and college students post all kinds of photos on FB or Instagram that would be super embarrassing if an employer were to catch wind of it, let alone a targeted act like this.

      I wouldn’t say there were problems with it necessarily, Lexxie, maybe just areas that could have used more development. But you’re used to hearing me say that, eh? ;)