Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Teach Me by R. A. Nelson

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.

Grade: B

Thank you, now and again, to JL for this book!

Memorable Quotes/Lines:
""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.


Lenore Appelhans said...

Sounds similar to the upcoming Everything Beautiful in the World. An apple on a cover always grabs me!

Liv said...

Yeah, I love the apple and the premise. It sounds really interesting and is definitely being added to my to-read list. Great review!

Anonymous said...

Great review! :) I've been hearing so many good things about R.A. Nelson... I really need to get to reading some of her stuff.

Caroline said...

R.A. Nelson is a he, actually.
(Which is another example of how talented he is- Teach Me might not be SO gender specific, but between that and Breathe My Name, he captures an intelligent teen girl voice better than tons of female YA authors do).

Ahh, I love this book. Even after my cousin (who calls me Carolina) read the book and started referring to me as 'Nine'. It's awesome. And I liked Breathe My Name even better. I can't wait for his next book!

Great review, Steph.

Steph said...

Yes, Lenore, I thought the same :) I'll try to get that book, too. Hehe *sneaky reviewer book whoring*

Thanks for dropping in, guys :) I really loved the apple on the cover as well.

Caroline - definite agree with you there. In fact, like I said in my review, it's not a bad thing that Carolina's voice is not extremely gender specific because it makes the book accessible to more people, IMO. And I do agree that he does a damn good job with her voice ANYWAY. Way better than some cotton-candy fluffy characters you see a lot of...


Amee said...

Great review! You make me want to read the book. :D

Alea said...

I had not heard of this book! Looks interesting! Jotting down a note right now to look into it more...!

WannabeWriter said...

Awesome review.

I was reading this book a few days ago. The writing was great, but maybe I was alone in my frustration with Nine? I mean, I know the post-relationship emotions have got to be almost unbearable, but her obsession unnerved me a little. Or maybe that's a good thing?


Alea said...

I've decided I really really want to read this. Sometimes I just get it in my head that I must get a book like ASAP, it's this one's turn. *goes to check status of local borders inventory* Thanks for pointing me to it!

Steph said...

Wannabewrites - I think that was the point ;) In any case, I thought she bordered on psychotic, too, but that's what made her compelling. At least to me.

Alea - I hope you won't be disappointed!

Alea said...

I don't think I will be. But I'm disappointed that my local Borders doesn't have it. So I'll just have to delay my happy dance a bit.

Anonymous said...

what's JL??

Steph said...

Alea - argh! I hope they get it soon. Be sure to drop me an email whenever you get it - I'd love to hear your thoughts. Or better yet, review it ;)

Anon - It's the bookstore I get my books from. They even have ARCs for sale there. One of the perks of being out of the US - in this contraband country, even books are bootleg. :)


Alea said...

All my normal stores are out so I think I'm going to add it to my amazon order I'll be placing in the next few weeks. I'll definitely let you know how I like it (probably through a review) only problem is I probably won't get to read it for a few months... argh! I've got a nice little stack of books to read for review that will probably take me clear through October. You never know though, the book could demand to be read much sooner!

YA Book Realm said...

Uhh I know what you mean when mean by the ending being rushed. I hate when that happens in books, movies and etc.

But I'm kinda wary about reading this book because of the teacher-student relationship. I mean I can't ever having a relationship with any of my previous male teachers. ekkk!

Anonymous said...

About JL: lmao Are they at least cheaper then the real deals?

Anonymous said...

I liked this book. I always remember the quote :
"You have to believe in God to believe in trees."...well, I think that was a quote, I read it a longish time ago.

Anonymous said...

I'm not quite finished with this book yet, but so far i thought it was great. I find Nine to be halarious in so many ways. It's almost like she speaks a different language because of her funny ways of saying things. Being a teen and reading this book makes it so easy to relate. The whole "forbidden love" books have always attracted me for some odd reason. Maybe it's because I think every girl stumbles upon a "forbidden" love at least once in her life. Also, for those of you who havn't read them yet and also enjoy reading about "forbidden love" I highly reccomend the Twilight sequals by Stephanie Meyer. They are amazing and I finished the serious in about 4 days. THey may sound corny, but trust me, give them a second chance!

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Hey! For some reason, this embedded comment form makes most people click twice before the comment is processed and published. It's not you - it's just that it's a new Blogger feature with kinks and all that. (But I adore it and don't wanna get rid of it!) I removed Captcha to make the process easier. You don't have to rewrite the comments twice; just click on SUBMIT twice and it should work. If not, email me. Thanks! -Steph