Thousand Words

288p. Little, Brown. 2013. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-316-20972-4; ebook $9.99. ISBN 978-0-316-20971-7.
Gr 9–11—When 10th-grader Ashleigh feels pressured by her friends into texting a full-frontal nude photo of herself to her college-freshman boyfriend, she believes that the picture is for his eyes only. But Kaleb distributes it to his contact list in revenge for her friends' pranks after the two break up. Ashleigh receives a trickle of mocking messages at first, but when the distribution expands and is posted on a website, an outraged community demands retribution. She is sentenced to community service, and Kaleb is faced with the possibility of being charged as a sex offender. Ashleigh's violation is keenly and sensitively rendered. Text messages, which get crueler with time, headline chapters. Chapters smoothly alternate between flashbacks revealing the chain of events and Ashleigh's time in community service. How and why she is sentenced are slowly revealed, adding intrigue to the story. As the teen begins to fight back against her tormentors and regains trust in her friends, there is hope that her situation will improve. The far-reaching consequences of impulsivity and of texting are made clear, but not in a preachy, heavy-handed, or overly dramatic way. Teens will relate to Ashleigh's feelings of humiliation, even if they've never experienced them to the same degree.—Jennifer Schultz, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA
An attention-grabbing premise is executed gracefully. Jennifer Brown convincingly depicts timely issues such as sexting and bullying—and does so with empathy and fairness. Ashleigh is a relatable protagonist with a plain-spoken, engaging voice. The before-and-after structure of her story is absorbing and shows how dramatically her life changed after one poor decision: “I bit my lip and tried not to think about it as I typed in the words ‘sexting and teens’ and hit ‘search.’ Articles popped up, one after another, and I groaned inwardly. Most of them were about me.” The heart of the novel is Ashleigh and Kaleb’s realistic relationship—and its fallout. Ashleigh sends Kaleb a revealing photo when she senses him drifting away from her; it seems to work at first, but ultimately leads to heightened suspicions and their breakup. Though the pair is clearly not meant to be together forever, their attachment to each other is sincere and poignant, and their insecurities ring achingly true. While attending community service for her involvement in the ensuing sexting scandal, Ashleigh develops an endearing friendship with quiet, secretive Mack. With his help, Ashleigh begins to view her situation differently, and Mack’s critical support in a moment of need leads to an empowering climax.

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