Exposure: A Novel by Therese Fowler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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.
A captivating page-turner, Therese Fowler’s Exposure is also a deftly crafted, provocative, and timely novel that serves as a haunting reminder of the consequences of love in the modern age.
My take: I have far too many thoughts on this book to concisely discuss so I will choose a couple and hope my feelings are accurately portrayed. I loved this book. It was uncomfortable and accurate. In my day job I met a 19 year old boy who had not been to school for many, many months. He showed up last week and wanted to enroll to finish high school. He'd been gone because he'd gone to jail. He didn't share details, both because he didn't want to and I told him if he did he'd be creating a possible witness. Here are some facts of his case:
The young man and his girlfriend got pregnant during high school. Her parents highly disapproved, the couple continued their relationship but chose to place the baby for adoption. By this time, the young man had turned 18 but the girl was still 17. It is perfectly legal for the couple to have sex. Ironically, the girl and her mother were sitting at church a few months after the baby and the mother scrolled through the girl's pictures on her phone. She found a picture of her boyfriend who was less than appropriately clothed. Her parents reported it to the police against the girl's wishes and the boy was arrested. He was provided a public defender who showed up once out of the 4 court dates. He was encouraged to plead "No Contest" and take his punishment. He spent a couple of months in jail and now on road crew and expressly forbidden to have any contact with his girlfriend. She has now turned 18 and someone has reported that he violated the no-contact rule before she had her 18th birthday. He is facing up to a year in jail.
A few side notes to these facts. He had spent the day calling attorneys but couldn't get past a secretary because he didn't know the difference between civil and criminal case. Which was his? He also did not know that he was not supposed to talk about the case to anybody except his lawyer. He told me things he should not have. He even went as far as to proclaim his guilt or innocence. What he DID know by now is that 1) he would hire an attorney and never trust a public defender again and 2) never talk to the police. Ever.
Ms. Fowler writes an amazing novel, artfully describing the process of teenagers falling in love, sneaking around, their first sexual experience, how the pictures came to be, and how they are discovered. She also artfully paints a picture of a loving father who believes with all his heart that his daughter must have been coerced and tricked, a single mother who loves her son but can't protect him from forces that are determined to destroy him. These charges, when in written form, look ugly and will place a lovesick 18 year old boy squarely on the sex offender's registry. It will destroy all hope of college applications being accepted and job considerations of import.
The story was inspired by an event that occurred in 2009 when the author's son approached her with dread and announced, "Mom. I'm in trouble and I'm going to be arrested." In heartbreaking detail, Ms. Fowler revisits the painful process of a boy losing his freedom to officers who are just doing their jobs by placing his wrists in heavy cuffs, ignoring all questions and explaining nothing while leading him into a holding room where he is coerced to remove all objects that could cause harm; his belt, shoelaces, empty his pockets. He is completely dehumanized and it is apparent that "innocent until proven guilty" is a misnomer.
Should the pictures have been sent or even taken? Probably not and it is easy to judge from afar. On the other hand, a couple in love does not want to discuss, in detail, their most intimate moments and have it splayed on the police blotter, around school, or in the media. It is easy to judge until I look at the pictures on my own cell phone of my brand new nephew, still slimy from his little trip through the birth canal. The photo I openly show to anybody who will look at his cuteness until I realized my little nephew is having his first meal on my sister's boob. An experience I found sacred and symbiotic with my own children could easily be misconstrued as pornography by an uptight D.A. or anybody else with an agenda.
I applaud you, Ms. Fowler.
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