Monday, September 9, 2013

Mini (NA) Review: Unteachable by Leah Raeder

Release Date: July 27, 2013
Published by: Velvet Pony Press

Unteachable by Leah Raeder

This novel contains graphic sexual content and strong language. It is intended for mature readers. 

I 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.


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Questions you should ask yourself when deciding whether to read this title:
1. Does this topic make you uncomfortable? No, really. Ask yourself this. It seemed like most of the negative reviews I'd read suggested that they were not able to stomach the idea of the teacher/student relationship. If you can't read about them, you won't like this book, even if it addresses some of the underlying social aspects behind those relationships.
2. Do you need a lot of plot? A lot of action? This book doesn't have a lot going on. In a sense, it reminds me of Stolen: A Letter to My Captor or Eleanor & Park or a Sarah Dessen novel. It's a lot of descriptions about the every day life of Maise. You may get bored if you're looking for something more than that.

And now here's the review:

Obviously this book addresses an uncomfortable topic for some, but what made it work, in my opinion, was both Maise's voice and the fact that the taboo aspect of the teacher/student relationship was explored. From the start, you learn that Maise's a very take-charge heroine, honest, bold, brave. Very aware of her effect on others:

"I smiled at no one, sauntering past stalls stuffed with popcorn and pretzels and corndogs, flavor ice and cotton candy. The air was drugged with sugar and salt. It made my head spin. A bell rang nearby and someone whooped triumphantly. I passed the rigged games— milk bottles, darts— where people stubbornly threw money at the carnie, desperate to win some giant lice-ridden teddy fresh out of a Taiwanese sweatshop.

Mr. Wilke says I’m both cynical and worldly for my age. I choose to take them both as compliments.

I wasn’t ready to face the rollercoaster yet, so I rode the merry-go-round for a while, going for the full Lolita effect as I lifted a leg high and slowly, slowly draped it over a painted horse, reveling in how uncomfortable I made all the parents."

I love the confidence, the way she knows of her own power as a woman - she's not an "innocent" in this affair, though she is a tad naive at times. I love her cynicism and the way it mixes with her both old and young soul. I love that while she may not fully see the consequences of her actions as they are happening, she has the bravery to embrace life with the sort of raw zeal that you don't get from a lot of YA/NA heroines. Her fears were always palpable, strung bright for you beneath the glitter of the mask that she wears for everyone else. The intensity of her emotions came through clearly in every description, so much so that at some points, the romance almost feels like a portrayal of insta-love, but it's not. Definitely not--but it does abound in descriptions of not only their sex scenes but beautiful portraits of the intensity of first love. It's like a grittier, more cynical and obviously more morally questionable version of the romance in Eleanor & Park. And her voice -- God, her voice was by far one of the best I have read in all of the NA genre. It's not just the intensity of or how smart she seems in her narration, but her unflinching honesty and camera woman's observation of the world, both the lighter and darker aspects surrounding us all. It's what Wendy Darling said in her review: "[Unteachable is] filled with the kind of lust and sweat and regret that you rarely get in New Adult titles, maybe because so many of them are too busy trying to appeal to YA readers that they aren't pushing the envelope enough, or maybe just don't have that much insight to share."

And the other point I have to make is that the taboo aspect of their relationship is actually addressed. I've read some other professor/student relationships in NA that don't go into the depth that this one does. It's more than the taboo aspect too; there's some subtle social criticism and some very interesting questions about actual NA concerns: your career, identity, future, parental and friend relationships. Although there aren't many secondary characters, they're flushed out well. I like reading about morally ambiguous situations (character depth, hello!), but what really took the cake for me about this novel was the beautiful writing. It showed in the graphic sex passages--there are a bunch but fear not: this book has the sort of emotional connection that seems lacking (for me, at least) in NA & erotica--and regular descriptions of everyday life for Maise. This book does come with the slew of familial drama that's rampant in NA, but I thought the drama was developed enough and contributed rather well to the character growth Maise underwent.

Okay! This was supposed to be a mini-review, so now here are some passages that struck me:
"He fucked me slowly, his eyes open, on my face. My fingers and toes curled and then sprang loose. The funny thing was that his kiss had felt like fucking me, and his fucking me felt like being kissed, everywhere, every bit of my body unbearably warm and buzzing." (The sex scenes are more graphic than this, but I figured I ought to include a passage from one so that you're adequately aware.)

"We walked through the white fleece lying over downtown, Evan in a wool coat, me in fur boots and knit stockings and a parka, like a little girl. I felt like a little girl, laughing at the snowflakes colliding gently with my face. They collected in my eyelashes and when I looked at Evan he said, “You’ve got stars in your eyes,” and I kissed him, his lips warm and sweet in the cold. Our breath wrapped around us in scarves of steam. On the smooth white cloth spread before us, pastel lights rippled in soft, diaphanous waves, like auroras."

"“You are so alive, Maise. You are so here, so present in the moment. You’ve taught me that happiness is possible now, not in some distant future. You’ll scale a mountain without a second thought, face your fears, throw yourself into danger, and you’re not reckless, but bold, proud. You have a lion’s heart. You’re not afraid to live.”"

"This is what being in love feels like, Wesley. Gratitude. Gratitude that you exist in this fucked up, beautiful universe."

"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 curled around mine. “That’s all life is. Breathing in, breathing out. The space between two breaths.”"

"We undressed each other, cool air and warm hands gliding over skin. He laid me on the bed on the icy silk sheets, and the gravity that had threatened to throw us into collision finally did. I held him close as he moved inside me, hard and deep and with an urgency that felt somehow final, and we gave ourselves to it, fully, without reservation. No future and no past, only an endless now. Afterward, as we lay with our limbs tangled and stared at the pipes on the ceiling, his words ran through me. What if this is all we have? This closeness, this space between breaths, holding each other like air in our lungs, the oxygen metabolizing into our blood in a thrilling, ephemeral rush?"

I'm definitely going to watch for more work from this author. Although there were a few things that I did think could have been done better, they were overshadowed by the gorgeous writing, the wonderful voice, and the fact that this book actually addressed the fantasy behind the student/teacher dynamic as well as other NA issues like your identity and career.


(PS - for those wondering why I'm not posting "Christina Reads Your Recommendations" today, it's because I need to catch up on review titles (as I explained last week). The Brother, Brother review will happen sometime this week, Dream Thieves next Monday. But that doesn't mean you can't submit more titles for me to read!)

(PPS - if you are interested in reading this, I can apparently loan you this title via Kindle. I don't know quite how that works yet, but if it's a one-time only thing, first come first serve!)

39 comments:

  1. I don't read NA. I make it a point not to even try it because I KNOW it's not my go-to genre but this one has me intrigued. And ohmygosh why'd you have to compare it to Stolen. Lol I adored that book. But you make a very good point regarding making sure you're okay with the subject matter before you pick it up. It drives me up a wall when people complain about the obvious stuff that can be found in the summary alone yet they still decide to read it. This one is definitely on my wishlist... great review. :)

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  2. Oh, if it's anything like Stolen than I'm going to love this. I'm not a huge NA reader but I did read&enjoy a few title, and Unteachable sounds like my kind of book (I like to read about taboo relationships, don't ask me why..) Thanks for putting this on my radar! :)

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  3. This definitely has me intrigued and this is my first time hearing of it. I will definitely have to do some goodreads scoping on this! lol Great review :)

    Janina @ Synchronized Reading

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  4. Hmm...I haven't been too impressed with NA so far, but I am intrigued. The MC is 18 so that makes it better, but how old is Evan (Mr. Wilke)? And is it high school or college? Is he's a lot older and it's high school, there's a definite eww factor for me that may keep me from wanting to read it. Great review! ~Pam

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  5. It is senior year of high school, and he's 33 if I remember correctly. Since she's 18, it's considered legal in her state - they mostly deal with the societal taboo. If it makes you feel any better, when they meet, they don't know that they're student/teacher. I too haven't been completely impressed with NA, but I loved this one, especially the writing.

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  6. Maise sounds so different from the usual protagonists in books I've read. While characters like this usually annoy me to no end, it sounds like the author did it right, so it was probably refreshing to read the story from the POV of someone who isn't as heroic or kind. And I love how Wendy described the book. No wonder I've been having such rotten luck with the other NA novels I've been reading! ;) Still not sure if Unteachable is my cup of tea, but it was a relatively good NA, at least. Glad you enjoyed it overall, Christina! (And wow, those are some intense scenes.)

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  7. I can't actually believe I'm saying this, but you sold me on a NA book with a student/teacher relationship. Now, to be honest, I'm usually strongly against those. I don't know why, but it always opens another chance for society (and the narrator, depending on the book) to slut shame the female character, whether it's the teacher or the student. Like for example, I don't know if you watch Pretty Little Liars.. I watched a few episodes, and there's this girl, Aria, (16) who dates a teacher, Ezra. Now this is so wrong, on so many levels. If you think about it, that teacher can't be less than 22/24 years old, and even though he never pressures her into doing anything, and is portrayed as a loving, handsome guy, it doesn't make it any less wrong. The fact is, this show is aimed towards teens of the same age as Aria worries me. Not all relationships of that kind will stay as "healthy" as both Aria and Ezra claim it is. Yeah, I have a problem romanticizing student/teacher relationships, especially if the student is underage. Not. Cool.

    But maybe in this case it's different. For starters, the protagonist seems like a mature girl, and she is, being eighteen and all. Second, it seems like the relation ship isn't overly romanticized, or portrayed as complete candy fluff and sweetness. The fact that she addresses the situation as it is is very important for me. And the excerpt make her sound like a character I would like to get to know, so yeah, this might be going on my TBR list.

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  8. Lauren, Love is not a triangleSeptember 9, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    I saw your comment to Pam below on ages, and your answer makes me feel slightly better about this. I agree, that my nervousness about the student/teacher situation has a lot to do with their age difference. If he's 40+ and she's 18, it seems like we're dealing with a different kind of book and type of guy IMO. Also the fact that they met first outside of school makes a big difference to me. It means a lot that both you and Wendy connected as much as you did to this story. And that this NA book doesn't just focus on sex, but that it is in the context of a morally questionable situation. I like that the author seems to explore this issue head on, instead of making it just a romance and using the uncomfortable situation just to add conflict (I'm not sure if that statement makes sense...). I also like that this MC stood out to you as a person, especially the way that she was aware of herself, although I don't think we all are at that time. I think I need to be in the right mindset to read this book, but I'm very curious about it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, and for your very thoughtful review.

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  9. I'm uneasy about the ethics of a student/teacher relationship but I could possibly buy into it if it explores these ethics. I'm also OK with less plot/action in a character driven novel which this sounds like it is. I really love well developed, quirky, original characters and from the quotes, it looks like this one delivers on that. I liked NA but I quickly got turned off by the repetitive nature of them. I like that this has something new to bring to the table and I've added it to my list. Great review, I really enjoyed yir thoughts on it.

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  10. Sarah (Escaping Through Books)September 9, 2013 at 12:43 PM

    Hahaha, I love your definition of a "mini" review! For most people, this would be considered a lengthy review. ;-)


    I'm okay with not a lot of action going on in a story (Stolen by Lucy Christopher is one of my favorite books), as long as there is strong character development.


    I feel the same way as you about the lack of emotional connection in most NA and erotica, so I'm intrigued by how this book offers something more. I enjoyed the quotes you selected from the book to include in a review. I'm now intrigued enough to consider buying it for my Kindle.

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  11. I am in total agreement with you regarding the audience for this book--I'm surprised to see so many of the negative reviews that talk about how uncomfortable the readers are with the subject, and with the graphic content, as that's fairly clearly explained in the blurb and in most of the reviews I've read! I'm so glad you too a chance on this (and I'm glad I took a chance on it, too), and that you had such a strong reaction to it as well. I think Maise's a fascinating heroine, and the type I'd like to see more of.

    By the way..."mini" review? Woman, please.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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  12. Lisa (Lost in Literature)September 9, 2013 at 6:33 PM

    I always seem to go for this type of taboo story. I like books that are out of the norm. You're able to loan books on Kindle? I didn't know you could do that. And I have to admit I LOL'd at your "mini review" title. Your reviews are anything but mini. They are always very detailed and descriptive. I'm forever impressed with your reviews. :)

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  13. I'll just have to picture him as Ian Somerhalder (he's 34 and I would never say eww to him)! ~Pam

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  14. Haha, I don't read a lot of NA either. The only ones nowadays that I try are the exceptions that I see in my friends' feeds (my friends who don't really read a lot of NA either, that is, for the same reason).

    Yes. I think I saw in one review that someone said "warn the innocents." I was like... The summary literally says "This is intended for mature readers." And you're writing warn the innocents?


    If it's on your wishlist... would you like me to lend you my Kindle copy :)?

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  15. I like to read about taboo relationships too, so I'm not going to judge you :). I hope you enjoy the book!

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  16. Definitely check it out on Goodreads :). Hopefully it'll convince you to pick up the book!

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  17. Hahaha, he could be played by Ian. I don't quite remember all the descriptions, but there's a sort of "out of this world" element to him that Ian could do very well.

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  18. Characters like this as in characters who get into taboo relationships or arrogant characters or? Yes. I loved Maise :). She's not very kind or heroic, but in a sense that made her more real. Her jadedness made for a nice contrast to her hope and her zeal for life - someone commented on how complex she was, and I agree.


    Wendy described everything beautifully in her review - and ha! Yeah, I've had issues with NA for the same reasons. The whole book is very intense. You could try a little excerpt if there's one available and see if it works?

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  19. HAHAH woot woot. In all honesty, I feel as if I must warn you though. There is a Middle Eastern character (finally we are represented!) but she's not the best of characters. I don't know if that will make you upset. It didn't bother me overly so because all the characters were screwed up but just in case....


    Yes. Student/teacher relationships - often they do slut shame the female character involved. Society does tend to blame the females (well, when it comes to anything sexual really). I haven't watched PLL, but I do think that this case is different from Aria & Ezra. Maise is a mature, confident protagonist, and this relationship isn't overly romanticized. They are both fucked up characters and they recognize that the intensity of their relationship isn't quite normal either. They're kind of addicted to each other, and part of that is because of the taboo. So I hope that's more of what you were getting at.


    If you'd like, I can lend you my title via Kindle :).

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  20. Very true. 40+ and 18 would get a bit much - more similar to Lolita in full standards. Yes, they meet outside school and in some ways see each other in that context more clearly than they do when the taboo of school intensifies their relationship. It does have a lot of sex, but you're right: that is used to explore the situation - the student/teacher relationship is not just an excuse for conflict - it IS the central conflict (I think that's what you were getting at). No, I definitely would not say we were all like that at her age, but I have been wanting to read more books with more confident protagonists.... Thank you, Lauren. I hope you'll find a chance to read the book :).

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  21. This isn't like the other NAs - I also found myself quite turned off by most of them. This is one of the exceptions, not just for its situation but also for the character, her development, and honestly? Actual exploration of the themes it brings up. I hope you enjoy this one when you get the chance to read it!

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  22. Lol. Well. Mini review I guess means it's not a list. Just free form. And well, half the review is made of excerpts, no? :)


    Oooh, Sarah, I really do hope you enjoy this one. You'll have to tell me how it goes - don't be afraid to tell me if it doesn't work out! I hope the character and emotional development works for you!!

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  23. Yes. I actually saw a GR review that said to warn the "innocents," but as you said, it clearly states in the synopsis that there's graphic content and is meant for mature readers lol. I agree: I'd love to see more heroines like Maise.


    Hahahaa, all right! It's not that mini of a review. But I ramble a lot in my list book reviews, and this one did include a lot of excerpts....

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  24. Yes! I didn't know about it until my brother showed me. It depends on the book - in the info section, there's a small line that says "Lending." If it says Enabled, it's allowed :). And welll, yeah. I ramble a lot. But hey! Half the review is because of the excerpts! So my portion is kind of mini. Maybe. Kind of. :)


    Thank you, Lisa!

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  25. hahaha "And hide the women and children. Beware!"


    Oh it's lendable?? Gosh. That'd be awesome but those have time limits on them right?

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  26. I haven't heard of this one yet but I actually love reading these type of books--forbidden relationships--does that make me weird? I don't care, I still like them. I recently read a YA example, The Truth About You & Me, and really enjoyed it. First it's written in 2nd person pov/letter format, and I don't often read that pov, so it stood out. And it definitely was NOT a HEA, it was very realistic, and that impressed m the most.


    I'm definitely going to check this out--I'm heading to Amazon now. I loved those excerpts you included:) And I'm with Wendy. You mini reviews are like MY mini reviews--a total contradiction in terms--but I wouldn't change it at all!

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  27. Oh, no. I don't think I would mind, if it's the character who's messed up. It usually irks me when the reason they're messed up is because of their ethnicity.

    I know, right?! If it's a teacher she'll be labeled a messed up cougar, and if it's a student they'll be called a slut. Meanwhile, boys would get a pat on the back for dating an older woman. *sigh* And it's so sweet of you to offer. I have some titles I need to clear off my shelf first, though. But I'll let you know if I ever get around to reading it.

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  28. I think it's possible this one would make me uncomfortable, but I do admire the heroines self-confidence! Always nice to see a young women without self-esteem issues as a protagonist :)

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  29. hmm, but where is the line between character and character's ethnicity drawn? don't some people take it that if you have only one character of a certain ethnicity in a book, that character ends up representing the culture as a whole? Not disagreeing with you. Just thinking aloud :).


    Ugh, double standards - don't even get me started on them. and yeah! just let me know :).

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  30. yep! apparently the amount of time is determined by the publisher -- I just learned something new... This one has a duration of 14 days.

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  31. Exactly :). Shame that it'd make you feel uncomfortable, but maybe the author will write in another heroine in like Maise in a different story?

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  32. Lol no. Forbidden relationships are everywhere; we all want what we can't have, eh? ;). I saw the Truth about You & Me on another blog! And I still keep getting it mixed up with the one that's got that cover slashed through the tongue... Yay for you having enjoyed it!! I did hear quite favorable things about it and the use of 2nd POV :).


    Yay!!! Hahahah. Y'all are never going to let me live down the use of "mini" in the review ;).

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  33. That does make sense, but it would limit the author's options, don't you think? They won't be able to really explore the character without offending one person or another.

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  34. that already happens, even without the author trying :). No book gets past the test of reader subjectivity, and if the author were only writing for readers, then we'd definitely be limited.

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  35. Okay, well I may have to come ask you about that when I have some time. :D

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  36. Ok, I did read the book and really liked it. The writing was beautiful and amazingly, I was rooting for their relationship (I just kept having to picture Evan as Ian and that totally worked). It did bother me a bit when she referred to him in her head as "Mr. Wilke" but it was understandable given the whole forbidden thing. When the secret comes out, I was a bit put off and I'm still not sure how I feel about that. But an enjoyable few hours so thanks!! ~Pam

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  37. That's wonderful! The reveal about his past, you mean? Me too. I think that's one of the things that needed more time or I just didn't *quite* get. But I'm so glad you liked the novel and even got around to rooting for their relationship :)!

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  38. Great Review!! I love books that have beautiful writing & based on those quotes/excerpts, it sounds well-written and like it has a good message. As an avid NA reader, this is definitely going on my to - read list :)

    Have a great weekend,
    Elizabeth at Blue Eyed Book Reviews

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  39. Excellent! I hope you enjoy the book :). I'd be curious to know how this one compares to your other NA reads. You too have a great weekend!

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