. Athena's Books: Testimony...A Novel of Scandal at Avery Academy
Friday, September 4, 2009

Testimony...A Novel of Scandal at Avery Academy

Want a great novel with insight into the inner psyche of a whole cast of characters? Want to be a sleuth of sorts and figure out what really went down at Avery Acadamey, or AA as called by a post-grad basketball player at the elite private school? Want to know how minutes of self-indulgment wrecks havok in the lives of all involved?

You know, I picked up Testimony by Anita Shreve off the top shelf of the library not really knowing anything about it except that I read Body Surfing sometime last spring and truly enjoyed it. I'll have to tell you all about Body Surfing some other time...a thorough look at the intricacies of love. Well, I read the inside jacket of Testimony and that was it... I had to read it. I personally love this type of novel where you get more than just a one sided point of view. Not that the narrator is omniscient, but rather many chapters read like personal or eye-witness testimonies, alternating between the voices of those involved in the Avery scandal and those merely touched by its ripples.

What? Scandal? Tell me more!

Basically, 3 high school seniors and 1 freshmen are videotaped in lewd acts. Right from chapter 1 readers get a full account of what happens one night after a high school dance...pretty much things you don't want to think abou. That's all I'm gonna say about it.

You know, what gets me is that something like this, as gross as it , probably actually happens more often than we'd like to think. I'm a high school teacher, so I've heard here and there from a combination of rumors and portions of conversation I try and block out about rampant alcohol and drug use and sexual activity. I do not doubt the teen world today is probably about 175 % worse than when I was a teenager. Just look at some the profile pictures posted by teenage girls on Myspace, Facebook, etc. They aim to look provocative. Did I aim for that? I guess to a certain point I did, but I don't think you'll find one picture of me with a carefully practice pout or look of lust. I've seen girls dressed like Playboy bunnies on Halloween...HELLO! At a high school! A magnet high school with amazingly sharp kids. I guess this stuff is everywhere. It makes me so sad to think some of my students might be at some pary tonight drinking excessive alcohol or doing worse things. Then they come back to school on Monday like it is no big deal. Don't get me wrong...I have a sizeable amount of really good, good kids, as do many teachers across the country. But, the minute something is made public, then that's the minute you realized there is an alcohol, drug, and sex problem underlying our youth. Let's not even talk about the statistics.

Testimony brings all this out and more. Because this not a YA novel. The novel is not all about this privte high school and the mess that comes from a night of drunken debauchery. It's about betrayal, love, pain, forgiveness, and anger. It's about the raw human condition and all the implications it leaves within each. It's about the Avery headmaster and his decision to attempt a cover up and take written confessions from teens without proper legal council. It's about his unhappy marriage and his short lived moments of happiness in the home of another. It's about a mother's longing for her son and another mother's betrayal of father and son. It's about a father being shamed by his son and another father drawing a civil suit in the name of his son. It's about first love and first love-loss. It's about adults looking away yet expecting the spectacular. It's about media frenzy, death by freezing, crumbled love-pain letters, and never going back. It's about lonely adults and teenagers one day becoming lonely adults.

So, who is telling the truth about the AA scandal? Must be Rob. He is the last testimony. What he says is poignant, honest without trying. But Rob is a patholigical liar. That's one thing his mom knows. Nonetheless, I choose to believe he is being truthful. Not that his is the only truth, but the other truths are wrapped in emotion when the characters speak. As Rob says, "I have thought long and hard about why we did it, but I think the why was in the act itself. It was an act without why." And he ends with this: "...I believe that alcohol made it happen, but the 'it' was inside of us." As far as the "it"--well, the "it" applies to every action and decision taken by all characters in the book...even those not directly involved. I believe in what Rob says, but I don't know that I can count Rob to actually really mean this. He is too good a liar.

One last thing. Do teenagers know true love? Possibly. But, they definitely feel all the adult emotions of intimate relationships.
"I just wanted to talk to you before I did it, before I had to leave or whatever I have to do, and so I wanted to write this because it feels like I am talking to you. And, oh God, I so wish you were here with me, and I would tell you I was sorry a hundred thousand times, and I would not ask you to look at me or let me touch you or even let me say I love you..." (character: Silas)