Title: Thousand Words
Author: Jennifer Brown
3.5 out of 5 stars
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.
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.
The Price of a Stolen Childhood: How Much Can Restitution Help Victims of Child Pornography?
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.