Carolina "Nine" Livingston is immediately drawn to her new English teacher, Mr. Mann, to his brilliant exploration of poetry in class*, and to the way he talks to her like an equal. What began as a friendship soon becomes more, as the two willfully tumble into a passionate romance that goes against every notion of right and wrong.
Teach Me invites readers inside an experience that fascinates everyone—an affair between a teacher and student—and gives an up-close-and-personal answer to the question: How does this happen?
* Lots of Emily Dickinson in here, if anyone's a fan. I really liked it.
Thank you, now and again, to JL for this book!
""Goodbye young lady," he says. "I hope you'll think about what we've said here today."
Goodbye, indeed." (Page 161)
What do Teach Me and The Adoration of Jenna Fox have in common?
Both writers—R. A. Nelson and Mary E. Pearson, respectively—are represented by Rosemary Stimola. Now, this may mean little to the casual observer, but having read both books, I found a common trait I really loved—clear, concise writing. Suffice it to say, me likey. Ms. Stimola has very nice taste.
Above all else, what I loved about this book was the writing. Actually, scratch that—the voice.
Wait, no, the writing.
Okay, I loved them both equally.
See, the reason why is very simple: The approach R. A. Nelson took to writing his character was very unique, and it rang out in her every thought, dialogue or action. The way she perceived the world, peculiar as it may be, was sharp with undertones of funny. (For instance, when bringing a patron his food, she referred to it as "I brought him his cholesterol".)
Interestingly enough, while I thought Nine was compelling and a realistic human being, I’m not sure just how convinced I am of her femininity. She stood very neutral ground, which is what makes it hard to determine how gender-specific her voice is. I suppose this is good, however, in the sense that guys can get something out of reading this book, too.
As most people know, this book deals with an affair between a teacher (Mr. Mann) and his pupil (Nine). I’ve often heard girls (or guys) who engage in relationships with their teachers being called stupid or something to that effect, which is why I liked the fact Nelson created Nine as a deeply intellectual (and admittedly impulsive) character. This is, in fact, what made her stand out to Mr. Mann, who in turn was too immature for his age. The combination made sense, and more than that, the relationship felt like a natural chain of events. The chemistry was there. Though the message of the book was exactly the opposite, of course—it was meant as a cautionary tale, not as an incentive. But not preachy, never preachy.
Overall, I thought the entire first three-quarters or so of the book were brilliant. And then...
The resolution was a bit anti-climatic. Sure, it worked on some level, but I was hoping for a lesson to have come out of it. Not because what she did was "wrong" (I’m not here to judge, and they only consummated the relationship after she was 18) but because the relationship itself was clearly dysfunctional. After the affair ends (for reasons unbeknownst to the reader at the time—squee! for plot), Nine goes into a post-romance insanity. That’s what made Teach Me sparkle—her raw emotions. By the end, however, she just kind of gets over it with what I felt was very little motivation. Moreover, this plot twist with her best friend in the last few chapters (which, like with my review, he wasn’t mentioned in substantial detail until the very end) left a big question mark for me. What happens to him? Does he get over it?
Final verdict: Check-plus on everything leading up to the climax, poof, deflation at the eleventh hour. I’d recommend the book, purely on its initial substance and style, especially to people who like reading about taboo subjects. But don’t be surprised if you’re a little put off by the ending.