Review: Unteachable by Leah Raeder

My Thoughts

Bold and challenging. Written in a direct, no-nonsense, yet piercing and lyrical style. A uniquely unforgettable story of forbidden romance fueled by obsession, addiction, pain, desire and love.

4stars

Synopsis

unteachable coverI met him at a carnival, of all corny places. The summer I turned eighteen, in that chaos of neon lights and cheap thrills, I met a man so sweet, so beautiful, he seemed to come from another world. We had one night: intense, scary, real. Then I ran, like I always do. Because I didn’t want to be abandoned again.

But I couldn’t run far enough.

I knew him as Evan that night. When I walked into his classroom, he became Mr. Wilke.

My teacher.

I don’t know if what we’re doing is wrong. The rules say one thing; my heart says screw the rules. I can’t let him lose his job. And I can’t lose him.

In the movies, this would have a happy ending. I grow up. I love, I lose, I learn. And I move on. But this is life, and there’s no script. You make it up as you go along.

And you don’t pray for a happy ending. You pray for it to never end.

My Review

“There are moments, when you’re getting to know someone, when you realize something deep and buried in you is deep and buried in them, too. It feels like meeting a stranger you’ve known your whole life.”

Brazen, daring, fearless… a story that pushed the limits of impropriety, stretching the boundaries far enough that my convictions blurred, my thoughts swirled and my emotions questioned. This is a gritty, in-your-face story, unabashedly challenging my thoughts and feelings, but done expressively and vividly to where it captivated me just the same, but in a different way. I was really drawn by it and I feel like I’m still processing much of what I think and feel. I would say that being the type of reader that I am, I wanted to connect with the characters a little more, feeling more deeply invested in their togetherness. But perhaps that’s not the intent of the story, and rather, it’s the way in which the story converges and how the characters react to what happens. Regardless, the writing is gripping and distinct and I devoured it in one sitting.

“I’m not going to do the whole rollercoaster/falling love metaphor. I didn’t fall in love with him up there. Maybe I fell in love with the idea of love, but I’m a teenage girl… But when we crested the first peak and the world sprawled beneath us like a tangled-up string of Christmas lights and then we plunged toward it at lightspeed, the guy and I reached for each other’s hands spontaneously and simultaneously. And I felt something I’ve never felt before. You can call it love, or you can call it freefall. They’re pretty much the same thing.”

18-year-old high school senior, Maise O’Malley meets the love of her life at a carnival. Somehow they connect, they spark… a combination of some internal, intense soul recognition and a burning and instant desire that somehow evoked a dangerous excitement even early on. Unfortunately for Maise, Evan, the man she met in amidst the neon lights of the carnival… is her 32-year-old film history teacher.

Immediately I was struck with Maise. She’s audacious, sexual and flirty and way too mature for her young age. The most noteworthy thing, however, is just how self-aware she seems to be. She knows that she’s flawed and messed up, the outcome of a pained upbringing that has remained well into her teenage years. She is attracted to older men, or rather, uses older men and sex to shroud the issues that continue to burden her.

“Yeah, I hook up with older guys. And then I leave them, before they can leave me. Thanks for the abandonment issues, Dad. Fuck you very much.”

I wasn’t sure how I felt about Maise at first, but I have to say, she owned her struggles, her flaws and that made me like her all the more. She didn’t make excuses, she just owned up to them. However, despite the confidence she exuded, I felt like she was stuck in between youth and adulthood, as much of us were during those formative years. But she, unlike many of us, was already living in a world of adults and I think there were many times her age betrayed her… she still had so much experience to gain with time. She had grown up surrounded by the brutality of drugs and meaningless sex, but bereft of the real feelings and depth that real love bestowed… the maturity and insight that came with having those gifts in your life.

“Who am I without this? I thought. Without the seduction I wear like armor, without my bravado and cocksure confidence? Am I really just a little girl under it all?”

Evan was enveloped by mystery. I kept getting the sense there was a past, secrets… something more that kept me from really knowing him. And even at 32, there was an element of youth and underdevelopment in him as well. An aspect that we learned later not only intrinsically triggered the connection between him and Maise, but also the element that had been holding him back from truly evolving and maturing like Maise. But even without love in their past, their present was brimming with unbridled lust and they were only too happy to succumb to their desires.

“Our gazes struck like flint and steel. And I realized that gunsmoke smell wasn’t ozone. It was us. We burned.”

There are so many layers to the story, that again, my emotions kept shifting and at times I wasn’t sure whether I felt like their relationship was too unhealthy and addictive for each other or whether despite that, it was real and should persist. They were both so allured by the excitement of the forbidden, by the shared darkness and bound by a common pain, that I didn’t know if real feelings had truly taken root.

“Still there. The taboo. That kernel of wrongness. That thing that I didn’t entirely want to lose, because the nasty little Lolita in me liked it.”

Midway through the book however, the pace slowed a bit and I wanted the plot to unfold more quickly. But when the plot twist took shape, I was right back in it until the very end.

Overall, the writing is unique, captivating and expressive. I really do love the writing of Leah Raeder and I loved the original way she forged this forbidden teacher romance story. I can’t wait to see more from this author. I think her style is really original and I look forward to seeing what’s next!

“You should love something while you have it, love it fully and without reservation, even if you know you’ll lose it someday. We lose everything. If you’re trying to avoid loss, there’s no point in taking another breath, or letting your heart beat one more time. It all ends.” His fingers curl around mine. “That’s all life is. Breathing in, breathing out. The space between two breaths.”

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Comments

  1. Excellent review!

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