Sunday, July 14, 2013

Thousand Words are Not Enough

We can make assumptions about the lives of today's teenagers based on our own adolescence, but truth be told, we don't have a clue. Technology and its level of instant gratification have changed the landscape of growing up, for better or for worse. In Jennifer Brown's Thousand Words, she explores the wide reaching effects of just how it easy for teens to send the most private and secret parts of themselves out into the world for all to consume.

Ashleigh is worried about her boyfriend going to college. There are girls there. Girls who are much more willing to do things with him than his juvenile, virgin girlfriend back home. Ashleigh is your typical good girl- a jock, a smart kid, and daughter of the superintendent of the school. She never does anything really wrong, but at a party, she lets loose a little. After getting a little buzzed, she spills to her friends all her fears about Kaleb going off to college, and they have a great solution. She should send him a sexy photo to keep him interested. After a little protest, Ashleigh pops up to her friends bedroom and takes the full frontal photo. She sends it off to Kaleb and forgets all about it. Until morning.

All seems well for a while. The photo did its trick and Kaleb seems to be more interested in spending time with Ashleigh than with his buddies. Then he leaves for college and everything changes. When they break up, he promises her he has already deleted the photo from her phone, but after a prank her friends played on him, he does the only thing he can think of to truly retaliate. He sends the photo to everyone he knows. Now Ashleigh is embroiled in a situation that not only affects her entire life, but the lives of every single person around her. 

It is so hard to talk to teens about this very real problem, because as you know, teens are pretty convinced they know everything. You did too, when you were a teen, so don't judge! But also remember it makes a heavy-handed "public service announcement" kind of message to be almost completely useless. Remember those after school specials? How did they work on you? Well, the same goes for the teens of today. Sure lots of things have changed for adolescents today, but some things will never change! 

So how do you write a book about a very real problem in the hopes that kids will read it, digest it, and maybe even talk about it with other kids? You make your characters very real, that's how. And I really believe Brown's characters were a good representation of guys and girls going through these very situations. I am sure there are tons of girls out there suffering the same insecurities and concerns as Ashleigh, watching their boyfriends go off to college and leave them behind. And they may even choose to do the same kinds of things Ashleigh did, from the photo to the jealousy when he is gone, to all the arguments. If you have a any teenage girl out there, your child, your student, etc., get them to read this story. If nothing else, maybe it will at least open the dialogue to just how scary it can be to expose yourself like that for the world, even if you meant it to only go to one person, a person you trust.  Because in the real world, you have to follow one simple rule I always tell my students... Do you want your grandmother or grandfather to see it? If not, then DON'T do it! 

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