Testimony by Anita Shreve

Bibilographic Information: Shreve, A. (2008). Testimony. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.  ISBN: 0316059862.  320 pages.

Plot Summary:  One night can change everything.  At an elite boarding school in Vermont, students and administrators get caught up in a scandal that damages many lives.  The scandal involves sex, underage drinking, and a video camera, almost always an ill-advised combination, and this time with dramatic and devastating consequences.  When the headmaster gets the forbidden video, a sex tape involving four students: three boys on the school basketball team and one freshman girl, he struggles with what to do about it.  He knows the power it has to ruin many lives as well as the reputation of the prestigious prep school, Avery Academy.  And why did they do it?  Who is responsible?  How many people’s lives will be affected?  Told from the multiple, unique perspectives of individual players in this drama, including the headmaster, the involved students, and their families, the story unfolds to reveal secrets, lies, and the circumstances behind that ill-fated evening.

Critical Evaluation: Gripping and thrilling, Testimony is a hard book to put down.  when the teen sex tape is initially revealed, while shocking and disturbing, the depth of complexity because of its existence is not obvious at first glance.  As Shreve weaves a web of betrayal, bad judgement, shame, and regret, questions arise, about what to do with the grey area presented in the book.  Shreve’s characters are multifaceated.  This complexity does not allow the reader, for example, to simply label the freshman girl on the sex tape a victim, as, by many accounts, she seemed a consensual participant.  And yet, she was younger and outnumbered by the three basketball players on the tape, who were older and much physically larger than she.  Shreve demonstrates that questions of morality and ethics are not always straightforward or obvious, but are nuanced and dependent on an individual’s particular perspective.  She also demonstrates that a single mistake can have far reaching consequences.  Overall, Testimony is entertaining, thought-provoking and great fodder for class discussions or book group meetings.

Reader’s Annotation: High school students, underage drinking, sex, and a video camera are an ill-advised combination.  At an elite Vermont prep school these elements, in one evening, result in dramatic and devastating consequences.

Information about the Author: Award winning writer Anita Shreve has written 13 novels.  The play The Laramie Project as well as William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying inspired Shreve to use multiple perspectives in her novel Testimony (from www.anitashereve.com).

Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction

Topics Covered: Alcohol Abuse, Sexuality, Infidelity

Curriculum Ties: Health Science Topics: Sexuality, Substance Abuse, Suicide

Booktalking Ideas: Sienna’s first piece, Silas’ first piece

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15-19 to Adult (Crossover)

Challenge Issues: Sexuality is discussed and sex acts are described, underage drinking, sexual abuse.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this book included? While it is technically an adult novel, Testimony is about events that happen at a high school.  It is told from numerous characters’ perspectives, including many of the teens.  The young voices are authentic, and the novel is gripping from start to finish.

References:

(2009). Anita Shreve: Biography. Retrieved from http://www.anitashreve.com/