Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Exposed, by Kimberly Marcus

Kimberly Marcus's Exposed is a YA novel written entirely in free verse. It's a gimmicky approach, but the poetry format proves to be a perfect fit for this book—it takes a dark, gripping story and boils it down to its essence.

Exposed is told from the perspective of 16-year-old Liz, an aspiring photographer with a great boyfriend, loving parents, and a lifelong best friend, Kate. The girls have a minor spat during their monthly sleepover that leads to them sleeping in separate rooms. Liz is quick to apologize, but Kate seems determined to end the relationship entirely. Liz can't understand such a huge overreaction... until Kate announces that she was raped by Liz's older brother after Liz left her alone downstairs.

Marcus's poetry skills might fall short of, say, Sylvia Plath, but she does a more-than-adequate job of conveying Liz's confusion, misery, and doubt. The verse format also eliminates many of the more irritating elements of "normal" teen literature. I have reviewed so many pages of couture-clad bullies and pointless love triangles that I tend to think of those things as unavoidable aspects of modern YA fiction. It was with surprised delight, therefore, that I read the following:
"Soon, others stroll in:
Javier, the Hoopster.
Nathan, the Nuisance.
Brenda, star of The Brenda Show."
See? In less than twenty words Marcus describes a jock, a class clown, and a snotty school princess, without resorting to boring (and instantly passé) descriptions of shoes, hairstyles, and cell phones. It's the teen literature equivalent of a Christmas miracle.

Exposed is Marcus's first novel, and she clearly embraced the "Write what you know" axiom: she's a clinical social worker who specializes in the treatment of traumatized children and adolescents, and she lives in Massachusetts, where Exposed is set. One wonders if her next book will venture into different territory, or if she'll try to make a career out of writing stories about Serious Teen Issues, à la Chris Crutcher. Either way, I'll be keeping an eye out for her second book, because a debut novel this creative and moving promises great things for the future.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.

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