Friday, June 17, 2011

Exposure by Therese Fowler

Summary (courtesy of GoodReads):   In Exposure, Therese Fowler has written her most gripping novel to date—a ripped-from-the-headlines story of ardent young love and a nightmarish legal maelstrom that threatens to destroy two families.
Amelia Wilkes’s strict father does not allow her to date, but that doesn’t stop the talented, winsome high school senior from carrying on a secret romance with her classmate Anthony Winter. Desperately in love, the two envision a life together and plan to tell Amelia’s parents only after she turns eighteen and is legally an adult. Anthony’s mother, Kim, who teaches at their school, knows—and keeps—their secret. But the couple’s passion is exposed sooner than planned: Amelia’s father, Harlan, is shocked and infuriated to find naked pictures of Anthony on his daughter’s computer. Just hours later, Anthony is arrested. Despite Amelia’s frantic protests, Harlan uses his wealth and influence with local law enforcement and the media to label Anthony a deviant who preyed on his innocent daughter. Spearheaded by a zealous prosecutor anxious to turn the case into a public crusade against “sexting,” the investigation soon takes an even more disturbing and destructive turn.  As events spiral wildly out of control and the scandalous story makes national news, Amelia and Anthony risk everything in a bold and dangerous attempt to clear their names and end the madness once and for all.

And here's what I thought:   My first thought after finishing this book was: I am so glad I am not a teenager.  I know, selfish, right?   But seriously -- the author's credits say "To my boys, who have to navigate a world fraught with challenges and dangers I never imagined as a teen."   Yes.    But enough about me --- how about the book?

The author does something very cool, and that's to tell the story from a number of different perspectives, setting it out there so that it's up to the reader to decide who's really responsible -- teens?  parents?    The two teens, Amelia and Anthony, are a bit Romeo and Juliet-ish due to Amelia's extremely strict parents.   They have good intentions, and they are in love ... but they are both a bit naive.   As an adult, and knowing what I do about how files can embed themselves in computers, sexting just seems like a bad idea.   And this is a point that is driven home in this book.

The parents in this story make an interesting counterpoint to the teens.  While Anthony's mother seems more laid-back and open to different ways to handle the situation, Amelia's father is completely the opposite.  In fact, he's the one who really blows the whole thing into a huge legal battle.   Instead of talking to Amelia and finding a way to discipline her when he finds the pictures on her computer, he immediately calls the police, saying he's like to "report a kind of sexual assault, I guess you'd call it---" (p. 60).   He's a bit one-dimensional and unrealistic in how overprotective he is, and how he reacts to everything.   However, I'm sure there are parents like this -- who have good intentions, but whose strong reactions cause a problem to blow up into something truly awful.

The story starts out somewhat slowly, building up to when Amelia's father finds the photos, and then starts to escalate from there, ramping up as first the police arrest Anthony, then turn and arrest Amelia.    The setting has a lot to do with it -- where these families live, the DA is pretty hard-nosed, and seems to want to make an example out of these kids, so he flexes the law as much as he can.   It's actually very frustrating, but it's interesting to see what happens when it all turns on Amelia's father, and she's arrested.   You can feel him backpedaling, trying to figure out how he can get control of the situation (and realizing that there's really not much he can do, now that he has started the process).     Things keep escalating until Anthony and Amelia decide to do something desperate, and it looks like this love story will end in tragedy.

It did feel like the author was being a bit heavy-handed at times with the "sexting is a bad idea" message.   The characters also sometimes seemed a bit predictable -- Amelia, as Juliet, has strict, overbearing parents, with an especially controlling father, while Anthony, as Romeo, is being raised by a single mother who is naturally more open-minded and forgiving.   However, it was interesting to see how this situation not only affected the teens, but the parents, as well.   I got annoyed with Amelia's father right away and at times, felt like his character was a bit over-the-top, veering too far into "obvious villain" territory.   However, this story definitely shows how decisions made by teens can have a much larger impact beyond just their own lives, impacting the lives (and finances) of their parents and making everyone's future uncertain.  Is it realistic?  Some of it, yes.   While the characters might not be completely realistic at all times, the situation of sexting, and what happens when teens get caught (especially the potential legal ramifications) is something that we see in headlines pretty regularly.     This is an emotional book about an important issue.   Whether it will resonate with every reader the same way, I think depends on the reader's own experiences and age.   If you usually like books by Jodi Picoult and are a fan of realistic fiction about social issues, this will be a real page-turner.    It's clear the author is passionate about this issue, and it comes through clearly in the story.

First sentences:  Nine hours before the police arrived, Anthony Winter stood, barefoot and wild, on the narrow front porch of the house he shared with his mother.  The painted wooden planks were damp and cool beneath his feet, but he hardly noticed."

Thoughts on the cover:  Completely in line with the story and very eye-catching, especially as the girl's eye catches yours as she is looking over the boy's shoulder.


Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

I read this one and loved it. I think it resonated with me because I'm in law school and sexting is actually a big legal issue that we talk about because there seems to be no right answer. I also loved the Romeo & Juliet parallel.

Anonymous said...

This sounds really good, but I'm not sure it's my kind of read. Lately I've been really sensitive with whatever I'm reading for some reasons, and some books are just too turbulent and really upset me. This sounds like it could be one of those books.

Alison Can Read said...

I did think the characters were very cardboard and the whole plot was so predictable. But it was so readable that I excused a lot of flaws. Sounds like we have very similar thoughts.

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