Initial reaction: Reading Jennifer Brown’s books always seem to punch me so hard in the gut I feel like I’m close to tears or bawling. Reading this book hurt in places and I was impressed at how real an account it was. But it did have some issues.

Full review:

I’m keeping it at 3.5 stars, because while there are some great moments in this book, there are…not so great moments when it comes to showing/elaborating on the particular topic at hand. Some of those not so great moments left me questioning how high I’d rate this one, and I don’t think it was as strong as “Hate List” for the overarching narrative, though I appreciated the way this made me think about the topic and how I found myself following it with the gut-punch I’ve come to associate with Brown’s narratives.

This is a difficult book to read in more ways than one, because Ashleigh is a young woman who sent a nude photo of herself to her boyfriend, they had a horrible break-up, and he sent the picture out to his friends as revenge to get back at her. The result? A whole lot of backlash, bullying, slut-shaming, and examinations of legal and moral measures in the aftermath of Ashleigh’s sexting. It’s definitely emotional – I felt for Ashleigh in some tougher moments, but I almost feel like certain scenes undercut the emotion or had something missing to them. I couldn’t put my finger on what was missing exactly at first, but maybe because it was telling so much of Ashleigh’s thoughts and ramifications of her actions that some of the emotional gravity was lost. Ashleigh isn’t a perfect person; there are moments of weakness where she starts to define herself in the scheme of the scandal, but it’s re-examining her relationships and her work in her community service that has her come to terms with the aftermath of what happened. I almost think the book started off stronger (which were the parts where I felt most for the MC) than the latter part, though the book tied up, for the most part, all the threads it introduced.

The story trades between past and present and does well with showing the realistic reactions of its cast. I almost wish it’d done more to examine the issue of body and sexual shaming, contradictions of gender perceived roles by society, and identity – though it touched on the measure briefly in the scheme of Ashleigh’s experiences. Brown makes a good point in the narrative about a picture not showing the whole complexity or story behind a situation, and I appreciated that notation. I just feel like, the more I think about the narrative, my gut’s telling me that as much as I felt for the character, even in moments where she was difficult to like, something was missing. At first, my gut told me I should rate this 4 stars or higher, but the more I thought about it – it still felt like as much ground as it covered – it still only scratched the surface of how complex and emotional this issue really is.

But I appreciate the narrative with the experience it provided, and I think it’s still important for contributing to its larger discussions.

Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.

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