Unteachable by Leah Raeder
Published by Atria on March 24, 2014
Genres: [New Adult] Contemporary, Romance
2 Stars, Completed April 10, 2016
– read bold text only to avoid major SPOILERS –
Unteachable is deep and important, and perhaps more than just a romance. It gave me an honest and raw insight of a more physical and taboo relationship, which is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Yet this was the first time in which one detail completely ruined my enjoyment for a book.
I was still a teenager, and part of being a teenager was constantly checking your answers against everyone else’s. What did you get for number four? Is falling in love with someone twice your age gross, weird, amazing, or all of the above?
Maise O’Malley has recently turned eighteen. Her deadbeat father has long since been out of the picture and she lives with her junkie/dealer mother. Maise has always only relied on one person: herself. For that reason, she feels much older than eighteen-or at least too mature for the “naive” boys her age. So she has no problem with hooking up and using older men, but the summer before senior year she decides she wants to turn over a new leaf and reinvents herself. But right before school begins, she meets Evan Wilke on a rollercoaster at a carnival and she finds herself freefalling into intense love. However, the night ends with it being a no strings attached one night stand and Maise returns to her new, original resolve. That is until she realizes on her first day of school that Evan is actually her new film class teacher. Even with some time since that fateful carnival night, there’s no denying the chemistry and strong attraction they still have for each other. And with this, there lives will never be the same becoming messy and dangerous.
I’ve never read a new adult book (I once thought I did with some of Jennifer Echols standalones but after reading this I’d say those are on the young adult spectrum since they’re much more tame). Lately, I’ve fallen out of love with ya lit but choosing Unteachable as my first probably wasn’t the best idea. Among my friends, I am known to be the best Cards Against Humanity player (aka I am “entertaining” since I’m “so innocent”). I wouldn’t really consider myself a prude but I don’t voluntarily pick up provocative or steamy romances either. I’m not against sex in literature but I prefer reading clean romances personally. Unteachable had a lot of explicit, graphic sex scenes, which may have been too provocative for my taste.
After reading the first chapter I soon knew there was no way I could fully be able to relate to Maise (she’s certainly my antithesis) and it would take lots to persuade me to believe in Maise and Evan’s relationship because I don’t like forbidden romances to begin with and I’ve never been in a purely physical relationship to understand the type of love represented in Unteachable. Even so, I gave this a chance because a student/teacher relationship sounded intriguing (I really loved Rose and Dimitri in Vampire Academy series), and I still had hopes I’d be convinced of the romance.
“Did you see her?” I said.
He raised his eyebrows.
“The real me.”
“She’s right here,” he said, and kissed me.
Like I said, it wasn’t exactly all the sex that turned me off towards Maise and Evan’s relationship (no pun intended). To be honest, the romance began quite swoonworthy and sweet, but for me appeared short-lived after one important detail readers learn about Evan in the last quarter of the story. It greatly disturbed me that he had already had a relationship with another high school girl before Maise. Knowing that completely ruined my view of him. It made him appear much creepier and this forbidden romance became even less appealing to me. Without this detail, I’m pretty sure I would have enjoyed the romance and story a lot more.
I’ve been pretty honest so far, haven’t I? So I’ll admit: it wasn’t innocent, blind love. His age drew me to him in the first place, now it was his being my teacher that gave me a wild, terrified thrill every time we touched, infusing me with adrenaline, making my skin prickled. The danger was an electrode buried in my brain, lighting up my most primal fear and pleasure circuits. There was more to it, of course. Something was unfolding in me that had never opened before. But I wasn’t kidding myself. The forbiddenness was a part of it.
However, I still really respect Leah Raeder for staying true to painting a real taboo relationship by keeping the story realistic as possible. She displayed the couples indecisiveness, insecurities, and doubts. I liked the mini arc with Maise and Evan reevaluating their relationship and wondering if they’re only attracted to each other because of the forbidden aspect of their relationship. But I admit the scenes where they were aroused because of the unbalanced powers made me slightly perturbed.
And, honestly, all the sex did bother me some. Instead, of viewing their relationship as a way for Maise to find herself and for Evan to heal himself from his past, I could only remember the unhealthy and obsessive nature of it. There was a lot of crazed and impulsive sex, which weren’t scenes I was crazy about reading in detail for as often as they appeared.
And something I never could get my head around was why were all the adults okay with Maise and underage drinking? I can understand with Maise’s own mother and maybe the drug lord, but even with Evan who was always trying to be honorable and considerate of Maise’s future? And even with Siobhan, Wesley’s mother? I don’t know, I found that to be puzzling.
Speaking of Siobhan, I found it really far fetched that she, too, was once in a student-teacher relationship. I’ve read articles about scandals and I know that some professors and graduate students in my university date legally and openly, but are these relationships really that common? Common enough for Maise to meet one coincidently?
But there were still some parts to the book that I loved. Unteachable possesses such beautiful lyrical and poetic prose, which I was immensely fond of and may be the sole reason that is preventing me from giving this a lower rating. There are some emphasis on the arts with cinematographic throwbacks and references (Studio Ghibli, Breakfast Club, Casablanca, etc), and I loved how the beginning third of the story was written like a film itself with “I won’t know this until later…” The foreshadowing was ominous but still remained mysterious. The unexpected turns were nice bonuses.
Another piece I could really appreciate are the truly messed up characters. The majority of the cast were appropriately unlikable. Our protagonist is vain, irrational, and naive despite her protests of being more of an adult than kids her age. And the supporting characters were just as flawed if not more. Of them all, I was most sympathetic towards Wesley (more than I thought I would-initally he seemed uber clingy and slightly creepy) because he was the character that reeled in reality for both the readers and Maise at times where we and she needed it most.
Lastly, though I’m part of the minority that doesn’t ship the main couple, the ending was very, very cute.
Overall, I think this book just wasn’t for me. It was too provocative for my taste to begin with, and the game changing detail that I couldn’t ignore didn’t help. However, the poetic writing was evocative and alluring. Unteachable executes a romance that is so unlike anything I’ve read before and it should be recognized for the deep subliminal messages it suggests. I would still highly recommend to fans of dark, sexy romances.