Book Review: Unteachable by Leah Raeder

unteachable

Favourite quotes:

“Part of falling in love with someone is actually falling in love with yourself. Realizing that you’re gorgeous, you’re fearless and unpredictable, you’re a firecracker spitting light, entrancing a hundred faces that stare up at you with starry eyes”.

“None of us actually grow up. We get bigger, and older, but part of us always retains that small rabbit heart, trembling furiously, secretively, with wonder and fear. There’s no irony in it. No semantics or subtext. Only red blood and green grass and silver stars”.

“That’s how you know someone loves you. When they want you to be happy even in the part of life they’ll never see”.

 

Maise O’Malley hasn’t had the easiest life – what with a drug-dealing mother and her countless pervy boyfriends. What she wants the most is to get out of the small Missourri town and go to a good film school. A hook-up with an older guy at a carnival, no matter how erotic, intense and emotion-filled, isn’t going to get in the way of that – Maise likes to leave them before they leave her. However, the older guy turns out to be none other than Maise’s film studies teacher, and an amazing one at that. Maise is eighteen, Evan is in his early thirties, but what they feel for each other is too intense to be avoided. He sees beyond the tough exterior she projects on the people around her, and he appreciates her wit, her courage, her strength of character and her vulnerability that she hides so well. He makes her feel emotions that go way beyond sexual attraction – although the passion is as sizzling as the fireworks that seem to feature throughout the book. Staying away from each other until Maise graduates doesn’t seem to be an option. However, secret make-out sessions and rendes-vous are on the verge of being discovered, and Maise’s and Evan’s burning bliss is about to be shattered. Will their romance have a “Casablanca” ending or will it be even more doomed?

 

I’m celebrating International Women’s Day this year by reviewing “Unteachable” – a novel with one of the most real, flawed and well-rounded heroines I’ve ever come across in New Adult novels. First things first – I’m drinking champagne right now and I should say that this book goes amazingly well with it – and it’s not just the sparks on this beautiful cover. Maise’s story (I am hesitant to call it Maise’s and Evan’s story for several reasons) is not your conventional student-teacher romance. She isn’t looking to be saved – initially, all she’s looking for is good sex, but later she can’t get enough of whatever is between her and Evan. She is a very self-aware character, having a pretty good idea that their romance is part forbidden and doomed, part addictive, part wonderful. She’s seen the effects of addiction first-hand growing up, and the last thing she wants is to be hooked on something, even if that something is amazing sex. I really appreciated the insight the author provided in Maise’s inner struggles with this and thoroughly enjoyed the vivid, imaginative writing throughout which this was conveyed.

In fact, the writing style was one of my favourite things about the book. True, it is riddled with f-bombs, but they fit strangely well within the overall intensely bright picture “Unteachable” presents to the reader. Colours, fireworks, lights, videoframes, and other devices of the kind were used in clever ways to further highlight Maise’s inner struggles and the intensity of her romance with Evan. I really loved how “Unteachable” is presented as a love story that has gone off-script – Maise references “Casablanca” (a classic I’ve yet to see, unfortunately) on several occasions, and wonders about the parallels in her story and Ingrid Bergman’s. Characters enjoy film art on many occasions throughout the novel, and the juxtaposition of movies against the ongoing storyline of Maise’s own life has worked really, really well.

The relationship is obviously the central point of the book, and it is a student-teacher relationship, which I normally have mixed feelings about – for example, I hated how it was handled in “Slammed”, and “Pretty Little Liars” has a myriad of issues attached to the relationship of the kind that occurs within the story. However, “Unteachable” approaches it bravely, unabashedly, and doesn’t shy away from the problematic aspects. Statutory rape isn’t an issue – Maise is 18 – but illegality and unequal positions of power are very much an issue. Evan’s past is an even bigger of an issue, and is the reason why I hated him by the end of the book and hoped for the “Casablanca” ending. However, the fact that the author didn’t just ignore the issues I mentioned, along with many others, but demonstrated the characters’ struggles with them, made this novel much more compelling than your average student-teacher romance. For that reason, my rating is 7.5/10.

 

Dreamcast

Maise O’Malley – Saiorse Ronan

Evan Wilke – Ian Harding (surprise surprise)

 

Recommendations

You might enjoy “Unteachable” if you liked:

“Slammed” by Colleen Hoover

“Last Will and Testament” by Dahlia Adler

“Easy” by Tammara Webber

“Pretty Little Liars”

Have you read “Unteachable”? What did you think? What are your favourite student-teacher romances? Let me know!

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