Liberty author taps teen concerns with ‘Thousand Words’

Jennifer Brown had trouble finding her niche, but once she discovered it, there has been no looking back.

The Northland author recently celebrated the national release of her latest novel, “Thousand Words,” with a launch party at Reader’s World, 983 N.E. Rice Road, in Lee’s Summit.

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, “Thousand Words” is the story of a young high school girl who takes a photo of herself at a swim party — without clothing — and sends it to her boyfriend as a going-away-to-college gift for him. After the couple calls it quits on the relationship, the boyfriend forwards the picture and the photo goes viral, spreading throughout the girl’s high school and surrounding communities.

The fallout from the so-called sexting photo runs the gamut, and Brown, as the author, had plenty of fodder to work with to develop the story.

“It’s kind of timely,” Brown said recently from her home in Liberty, a day after the official release of her fourth book. “I do a lot of school visits, and over the years, I’ve had a lot of teachers and librarians talk to me about some of the problems that their district has had with cyber-bullying, bullying over cell phones and those kinds of photos being sent around as well.

“My first book centers on bullying, so when I visit a school it opens up a lot of conversation for that kind of thing. I realized after talking to many teachers about this, that this was something that needed to be addressed or talked about .”

Brown earned back-to-back Erma Bombeck Global Humor Awards for her essays in 2005 and 2006, and she wrote a column that ran in the Northland Neighborhood News from 2006 to 2010. She has written three other novels — “Perfect Escape,” “Bitter End” and “Hate List.”

“Hate List,” Brown’s debut novel published in 2009, was selected as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults in 2010, was honored as the Missouri Gateway Readers Award winner for 2011-2012, received a VOYA “Perfect Ten,” and also received a

School Library Journal

Best Book of the Year honor.

Brown’s second offering, “Bitter End,” received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and VOYA, and is listed on the YALSA 2012 Best Fiction for Young Adults. The book is also a Gateway Readers Award nominee for the 2013-14 school year.

“She’s always topical with her books,” said Jaime York, assistant manager at Reader’s World and a former classmate of Brown’s at Lee’s Summit High School. “She aims at teenagers and that really helps a dialogue to happen between everyone and get the information out there. The new book is about the consequences of sexting, which runs rampant now. She’s very in tune with what’s going on in the teenage world.”

York reached out to Brown to get the ball rolling on her launch party for “Thousand Words.” Christian Apodaca, manager of Reader’s World, said a national author celebrating the release of her latest book in Lee’s Summit was a great coup for readers in the area.

“She decided she wanted to do it locally; kind of bring it back home,” Apodaca said of Brown’s launch party. “We’re just lucky to have her.”

As for Brown finding her niche, she said the process of discovering her true writing voice was well worth the wait it took to score her first book deal. She started writing her initial book in 2000, retained an agent in 2006 and published “Hate List” three years later.

“It took me a really long time,” Brown said of her journey to being a published author. “It was amazing. Gosh, I had been working on it for so long, it was like a dream come true. I didn’t think it would actually happen. After awhile you kind of get numb to the rejection letters.

“I got hundreds of rejection letters over the years. The best way for me to get over those was to remind myself that getting rejection letters means I’m in the business. The other thing I did was to just keep writing; keep working on new stuff. If one isn’t working, the other might work.”