Val knew there was something different about her boyfriend, Nick. The two social outcasts found each other in their high school and soon developed a close, romantic relationship. But while Val considered it a way of letting off steam at students and teachers who wronged them, she never knew that Nick has another more sinister purpose for their hate list.
Five months ago, Nick entered their school and opened fire on his classmates and teachers. Killing several and wounding others (including Val), Nick ended his rampage by taking his own life — and leaving a community and Val hurting and searching for answers.
Now as Val prepares to go back to school, she faces questions, pain and accusations not only for the community but also from her own family. If Val was an outcast before, she is even more so now but with the added quality that people are on pins and needles around her because of the actions of her boyfriend and her assumed role in the shootings.
Jennifer Brown’s Hate List brings up a lot of uncomfortable questions in this character-driven examination of one of today’s hot-button topics. Val’s story is a tragic one and watching her struggle with guilt over what Nick did, all while trying to reconcile it with the love she felt for him is heartbreaking and compelling. And while it might be easy to give Val some easy answers on the printed page, Brown doesn’t.
Scenes that showcase Val and Nick before the tragic day, on the tragic day and Val’s attempts to move on with her life all sparkle with authenticity. This is one of those books that will linger with you long after that last page is turned.
With summer winding down, Ashleigh is becoming more and more concerned about her relationship with Kaleb.
Kaleb is getting ready to head off for college but instead of wanting to spend more time with her, he’s off with his baseball team buddies. At the end-of-summer epic swim party, Ashleigh tells a couple of friends about her frustration and one of them suggests that she give Kaleb something to remember her by — a racy photo taken on her cell phone.
Ashleigh summons up her courage and instead of just sending Kaleb a topless photo, she shucks her entire bikini, snaps the picture and sends it to him. After seeing it, Kaleb is stunned and promises to keep the picture a secret.
Which is all well and good until Kaled heads off to college and he and Ashley break-up. After a huge fight, the photo in question begins to make the rounds of her classmates, eventually being distributed to the entire school and posted on-line.
While Ashleigh wishes the entire issue would just go away, it becomes less and less likely as the media catches wind of the story. It doesn’t help that her father is a leader in the school district who has come under fire and the picture only lends fuel to the fire of those who oppose him.
It’s books like this one that make me glad I’m not a teenager today. I’m not sure I’d survive.
Jennifer Brown’s Thousand Words plays on the old adage that a picture really is worth a thousand words. It also points out how an impulsive decision can have a significant impact on not only the parties involved but others in the community. Ashleigh’s photo leads to charges against her and an arrest. Kaleb’s role in distributing the photo also has negative consequences for him — some even more severe since he sent the picture after his eighteenth birthday.
In all of this, Ashleigh struggles to understand why Kaleb would do this and why one of her friends put her name and phone number onto the photo before sending it onto others. Ashleigh’s frustration and struggles with her decision and her desperate attempts to keep it a secret or contained feel utterly authentic and will linger with you long after the book is finished.
Unfortunately, I have to say that this one isn’t quite as compelling as Brown’s Hate List. Part of it is that the middle third of the novel feels like a lot of treading water as we wait for the other shoe to drop once the incriminating photo goes into distribution. I can see what Brown is trying to do and have us experience the ride along with Ashleigh, but it still made the middle section drag a bit too much.
Thousand Words can be a warning to not only teens but also those authority figures in their lives. Ashleigh learns the hard way that things can and will linger on-line, possibly forever. And it’s fascinating to see the unintended consequences of a rash decision by a young adult and just how it can not only impact his or her life, but also the lives of those around them.