Exposure by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes

ExposureInformation

Goodreads: Exposure
Series: Twisted Lit #2
Source: Received from authors
Published: 2013

Summary

Skye Kingston views the world through the lens of her camera, chronicling the lives of the high school uppercrust, but never daring to enter their world.  Still, she dreams of the day when Craig, a star athlete and the crush of every girl in school, will realize that the two of them were always meant for each other.  Craig has a secret, however—one that threatens to keep them apart forever.  Inspired by Macbeth.

Review

Although marketed as a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (one meant, presumably, to make the Bard hip to teenagers), Exposure bears only a passing resemblance to the Renaissance masterpiece.  Without the overt hints given by the chapter titles—each one inspired by a quote from the play—I daresay many readers would miss the connection.  Exposure therefore must appeal to readers primarily through its own plot and characters, not through any novel reinterpretation of Shakespeare.  Whether it succeeds depends largely on how its audience feels about teenage drama.

The decision to call Exposure a retelling of Macbeth baffles me.  The majority of the references to the play occur in names—Beth instead of Macbeth, the Hurlyburly as a place the kids like to hang out, etc.  Only a few key elements stand out: the introduction of three girls who make (really vague) prophecies, the death of Duncan, a scene with a knife, and a moving forest.  These elements, however, do not typically correlate with the play.  Whereas the witches in Macbeth are clear agents of evil, the girls here are playful and friendly.  In the same vein, the moving forest does not come to destroy Macbeth but to protect the environment.  And while the most obvious connection may be the one I have not yet mentioned—the social climbing of Craig—I really have to question whether a teenager’s quest to become Prom King is comparable to the usurpation of the Scottish throne.

Exposure might have proven more interesting had it intelligently incorporated themes from the play.  Macbeth is a powerful work of theatre that addresses ambition, fate, evil, guilt, and politics—to name only a few key topics.  True, many readers (especially those who now realize that their choice of prom date was not the earth-shattering event they may have once thought) might have difficulty taking a work seriously when it proposes to compare the fate of a nation with one girl’s desire to climb the high school social ladder.  However, parallels still could have been drawn much more strongly than they were.  Having a character spout the cliché “You’re in charge of your own destiny” to a boy with domineering parents only draws attention to how far short the book falls from the subtle power of the play.  Neither fate nor evil ever really seems to be at work here–only bad decisions based on social insecurity.

Comparing the book to Macbeth might, of course, be unfair.  I suppose few authors expect to attain the type of popularity or acclaim that Shakespeare has.  Even as a book unto itself, however, Exposure falls short.   I found the characters unlikeable and unbelievable.   Of course the typical popular diva appears along with her boyfriend–the guy who is really nice except that somehow he was trapped by this backstabbing girl and subsequently found himself hanging out with her likewise catty and downright mean friends.  (Again, this guy is really very nice.  He just hangs out with a bunch of people who are willing to destroy the lives and reputations of those who get in their way.  But that says nothing about his own sweet, loving nature.)  However, even the protagonist Syke does not prove very appealing.  The bulk of the book chronicles her feelings of inferiority and her desire to be with another girl’s boyfriend.  No doubt she reflects the feelings of many a high school girl, but, aside from her love of photography and model-worthy looks (that no one appreciates), Skye barely comes across as an individual.  She has few secret loves or fears or dreams that do not center around her crush.  She does not even have a group of friends (socially awkward people in these stories usually hang out with other socially awkward but really very friendly people, right?) and she is a senior in high school.  That’s how overlooked she apparently is.

I also had trouble buying the high school setting.  The stereotypical high school portrayed in literature and film is not my high school.  Mine was pretty much free from cliques and no one who was as mean as the stereotypical “popular” girl would have ever achieved popularity, much less proven a strong contender for an award like Prom Queen.  Perhaps I was unsuspectingly blessed with an abnormal experience full of kind people who cared more about what you could contribute to the community than what you wore, but I am so tired of the catty, backstabbing experiences portrayed in the media that I generally do not even read contemporary YA.  The attempt the authors made to sound like they are a part of teen culture did not add to the experience.

Finally, I have to address what I feel most strongly about: the poor message the book sends.  This necessarily dictates spoilers.  Exposure is clearly trying to say something about social status in high school not determining one’s worth–or something like that.   Thus, what we get for a happy ending is Craig breaking up publicly with his popular girlfriend at the prom (seriously, he makes a speech to the student body with a microphone saying he never liked his girlfriend) and leaving to make out with Skye.  I think this is supposed to be a freeing moment because apparently his evil girlfriend dictated all his moves before, even making him complicit in manslaughter.  However, Craig is not a nice guy who was manipulated by someone else.  He has free will.  He chose to go out with that girl.  He chose to be complicit in manslaughter.  He chose to break up publicly with his girlfriend at prom and ditch her for another girl.  He hangs out with a fast crowd, tries to get drunk, and evidently is the type of guy who puts his teenage girlfriend in a situation where she might get pregnant.  The fact that Skye ends up with him makes this book more of a tragedy than Macbeth, where at least Scotland gets a new ruler.

I regret I had to give this book such a negative review.  I love Shakespeare and was looking forward to a new spin on an old tale.  Even taking into account the fact that contemporary YA is not my genre, however, I find I cannot speak positively of this book when I feel it promotes such a poor message.

4 thoughts on “Exposure by Kim Askew and Amy Helmes

  1. LilysBookBlog says:

    Macbeth is probably my favourite Shakespeare play (and the only one I never rolled my eyes at during any part of it) so I like the whole idea behind this book even if you said there isn’t much of a macbeth retelling in it. Great Review

    Lily @ Lilysbookblog

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    • Krysta says:

      I was excited for a modern take on Shakespeare, too. From what I’ve read, it seems like reviewers speak more positively of the first retelling in the series, Tempestuous (a retelling of The Tempest). Maybe it’s worth checking out.

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  2. Elizabeth says:

    “I really have to question whether a teenager’s quest to become Prom King is comparable to the usurpation of the Scottish throne.” – oh my god I laughed so hard when I read that hahahahaha

    I’m with you on cliques. I mean they sort of existed? But they were never like in chick flicks (Mean Girls anyone?). You’d have certain friends you were more likely to hang out with, but you could really go hang out with whoever you wanted and it wasn’t a big deal. I think that’s why I have a hard time reading teen books set in high school because it is so foreign to my high school experience

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    • Krysta says:

      I’m glad you found that funny. I felt unusually snarky when I wrote it and I wasn’t sure if that was good. 😉

      Yes, exactly! There was this group of people whom I’m sure thought they’d be the popular clique if they were in a movie, but no one talked about them and they didn’t go around shoving students into lockers or spreading malicious rumors or whatever nefarious things it is they were supposed to. I’m sure if anyone walked up to them and said hello, they would have made friendly small talk like everyone else. And friend groups were pretty fluid. Who you hung out with mostly depended on who was sitting around you in a particular class. I’m glad I’m not alone in finding depictions of high school in teen books very, very strange.

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