Thousand Words by Jennifer Brown
I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way swayed my opinion. Pinky swear!
The summer is about to come to an end and Ashleigh finds herself with the realization that her boyfriend, Kaleb, will be leaving soon for college. Concerned that he will forget her and full of insecurities about their future, she laments to her friends who suggest she take him a picture that will make SURE he doesn’t forget her. Drunk and armed with her phone, she takes a naked picture of herself and sends it to him. Months later Ashleigh and Kaleb have a very nasty breakup and Kaleb gets revenge by sending the naked picture out. Soon everybody in the school and beyond has seen it and everyone from the media to the police are now involved and she’s being ostracized at school. Ordered to court ordered community service, Ashleigh meets Mack, the only person in the program who will really talk to her, and starts a friendship with the one person she knows of that didn’t look at the photo when he received it and learns Mack’s story of why he is in community service.
Here’s the thing — I think what Thousand Words tackled and how it was portrayed was phenomenal. I think it’s an important book for teens in this age because sexting is a HUGE issue along with other abuses of technology. It’s a story that needs to be talked about because it sheds light in an honest and accessible way on this issue and also could help teens who SEE these things happen speak up and not further victimize the victim. However, I just had very “in the middle” feelings about it outside of that.
The story was told in a way where we knew WHAT happened up front and then we got alternating chapters of how the whole thing unfolded plus the present day. It was interesting to read the present day and the foundation for where she is now side by side. The whole mess was hard to read and it was really sad to see how she was ostracized at school and even among friends who knew the truth. There was a lot of victim blaming in this one and it was so hard to read about though it felt sadly realistic.
The even stronger point, I thought, in the whole story was how it affected her and her parents — their relationship and the effect on her parents’ life! There was also a lot to think about in terms of consequences for Ashleigh and many other people in this story and I appreciated that added dimension to the story because I didn’t think about some of the consequences as the story began. It made the story feel very complete to me as I battled with what was unfair and fair in this situation when it came to the people impacted by this act (Ashleigh, Kaleb, the bystanders, how her parents were impacted).
I think what is so important about the plot of this book is how realistic it is. It was completely plausible. I mean, the main character is a little drunk at a party and her girlfriends encourage her to make her boyfriend wish he was there with her so she sends her BOYFRIEND a naked pic of herself. After they go through a nasty break up months later, he sets the picture free and suddenly she is caught up in a major scandal and everyone is calling her a whore and slut and circulating nasty rumors. I can imagine many girls out there have done something that they thought was innocent in nature because it was just to their boyfriend and luckily, for some of them, nothing ever gets out but others aren’t so lucky. Sexting aside, in this era with all the technology, there are so many situations that could happen like this when your every move seems to be documented and mistakes are hard to erase.
While I thought the overall story was good, I just had a hard time connecting with Ashleigh. Sure I felt bad for her but I really didn’t feel like I got much from her and she seemed very one dimensional in some ways. I wanted a little more depth with her emotions. I understood her embarrassment but I wanted to get past the surface and really FEEL her emotions and I didn’t. I also thought a lot of the other characters were very bland and rudimentary so that was kind of disappointing because I’m definitely one who needs to FEEL something strongly towards a character (doesn’t even have to be a LIKE of them). The story just felt really impersonal to me though I thought it was good story.
I thought Jennifer Brown did a really great job of taking a timely issue and delicately breathing it to life with a scenario that really isn’t all that unrealistic today. If you enjoy “issue-y” novels that aren’t preachy this is a good one for sure as it looked at things in a multi-dimensional way and was realistic. As much as I think this story was done really well and is IMPORTANT, I just didn’t find what I was looking for to connect to it and make it more memorable for me. A lot of the characters, even Ashleigh for me, just felt at a distance to me where I could KNOW what I was supposed to feel towards them but I never actually felt much of anything except for feeling bad for all the Ashleigh’s of the world whose mistakes unfortunately get thrust out in the open. As impactful as this novel could have been on me, it just wasn’t.
Let’s Talk: Have you read Thousand Words? Heard of it? If you’ve read it, what did you think? I’m curious if you think Kaleb’s punishment was fair? Have you read any of Jennifer Brown’s other novels? Have you read any other novels/heard of the one that tackles sexting?