Author: Anita Shreve
Release Date: October 21, 2008
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: **** 1/2 (out of 5)
From the dust jacket:
At Avery Academy, a prestigious New England boarding school, the headmaster finds himself in possession of a videotape – a disaster in a small package. More shocking than the sexual acts recorded on the tape are the ages of the students. One girl is just fourteen.
A Pandora’s box, the tape unleashes a storm of shame and recrimination throughout the small community. The men, women, and teenagers involved speak out to relate the events of that night and their aftermath. Mike Bordwin, the headmaster, struggles to contain the scandal before it destroys the school. Silas Quinney, a well-liked local boy, grapples with the tremendous consequences of his mistakes. Anna, his mother, confronts her own forbidden temptations. And Sienna, an enigmatic and troubled young woman, tries to put her past behind her.
For all the tape reveals, it provokes more questions than answers. How did this happen? Who is to blame? And will the mistakes of one foolish moment ruin the futures of everyone involved? As the chorus of voices rises to a crescendo, it reveals the surprising truth of what occurred that night and how the lives touched by these events will be forever transformed.
Testimony is a powerful novel that that weaves an intricate story of truth and consequences. It is told after-the-fact through the eyes of multiple people involved in the scandal. The title is actually a description of the book, as each of these people are giving testimony as to what happened that fateful night and how it affected them. This method provides mere glimpses into multiple lives, but allows for a more sophisticated understanding of how the consequences of the actions of a few individuals affected a wide range of people.
Because that’s what this book is about – consequences. What are the consequences of a single action? How much do mistakes cost? How much should they cost? Are there crimes for which a person should pay his or her entire life? But it also delves deeper into the psyche than it seems. Was it just the fault of the boys on the tape? What about the girl, was she at fault? What about the circumstances surrounding each of the boys? If one of them was having a hard time at home, was the fact that he made a poor choice the fault of his home life?
I think the most delicate part of Testimony, and the part that will be the most discussed in book clubs and such, is whether the girl was at fault. It is clear from her portrayal in the novel that she is no innocent and knew what she was doing. At the same time, legally, the boys were responsible for their actions. It is a heinous and incredibly awkward thing to read about, and engenders internal conflict within the reader – whose side am I on? Is it really even a matter of sides, or is the whole thing so unthinkable that it just doesn’t matter? It really provides fodder for thought and discussion.
This is a serious subject and one that is becoming all the more relevant as children are increasingly eager to become adults at younger and younger ages. There was one point made in Testimony that I thought was incredibly interesting. It was towards the very end, but is not any kind of a spoiler. One of the characters says, “I don’t believe any of us…gave a single thought to the age difference. We knew there was a disparity, of course, but I think because we were all part of the same community, allowed to attend the same dances, even encouraged to attend the same dances, it never occurred to us that one girl might be off-limits while another wasn’t.” Of course, this is no excuse, but it does present an interesting point that I have never considered. It is definitely a book worth reading. I especially recommend it to book clubs because this is a book that will produce a lot of discussion.