Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Review: Unteachable by Leah Raeder

*dips toes into NA*

*sloooooowly eases in*

*a giant tentacle wraps itself around calf and drags under*

Disclaimer: I know the author, Leah, through our conversations on Twitter. She offered me an ARC of her book to read, with the caveat that I may or may not even get around to writing the review. Make of that what you will.

So apparently the big thing this year is NA. Indie-turned-traditional NA. I'm having flashbacks to people talking about 50 Shades for teens, and I'm trying to keep my mind open.

Thankfully, "Unteachable" is one of the books that would revive my hopes if I had any hopes to revive.

Maise is a girl from a broken home - her mother is a drug addict and a drug dealer, and her father abandoned them both before she even had a solid memory of him. The summer before seniour year starts, she has a fling with a cute guy she met at a carnival, who turns out to be her new teacher.

Evan is a guy with a past, but he can't resist Maise, and the two start having a steamy relationship. Soon after, things start to unravel.

Okay, so maybe I don't sell the plot, but it's a very engaging story. Some of the more seasoned NA readers out there have probably discerned a familiar pattern. If you like it, you'd have made up your mind to read this book already. My job is done.

For those of you who need more convincing, here are the things that made this book work for me.

1. The protagonist

Maise is a straightforward, no-nonsense chick, who screws up, makes things better, screws up again, but isn't put off by the possibility of failure. If she gets stuck in a situation, she will find a way around it, and nothing will stop her. Like most people, she learns through trial and error, and it's refreshing to see how quickly she picks things up.

But you know what else is refreshing? She's someone who owes her sexuality, and once she gets over her initial fear of emotional intimacy, she embraces that as well:

I owed every part of me, the nudity, the just-had-sex-hair, every mistake I'd ever made, and wrapped myself in it. p.56

2. Siobhan

Seriously - Siobhan is a badass lady. I seriously want to be her. (And if not, I would like her story. Stat.)

3. Movies!

Maise wants to make movies, but the book goes beyond just telling us that. The text is filled with references to movies, to filming and narrative techniques, the characters talk animatedly about this, and it actually plays a huge part of the plot - Evan teaches film and Maise needs his unit to get to the kind of school she wants. Maise and her friend Wesley bond over movies, etc. etc. etc.

What I mean is, this book clearly knows its shit, and isn't afraid to show it. I admit it, I love me a story that has its characters be total geeks over something.

4. The writing

If I had a physical copy of this book, half the thing would be in highlights. And as I believe in showing, rather than telling, here are some tasty quotes for you.

If Wesley had been here, he would have filmed the moment, captured it. Raising the camera was his first impulse; mine was to feel, to let the world crash against my skin. p.83

I ran my hand over his downy belly and up to the place above his heart. I listened to it beating through my skin. "Because I want all of you," I said. "Every part."

He whispered back, "It's yours." p.113

I can't be your manic pixie dream girl. I can't be the girl who teaches you to open your heart and embrace life and all that bullshit, because I'm trying to figure out how to do that myself. p. 120

I rest my point.

There are things I don't like about this book, of course there aren't. I feel like our antagonist needed more fleshing out (I like to care about antagonists just as much as I do for the protagonist) and there's a stake at the end of the book that could have been introduced earlier.

However, those things can be overlooked. My biggest beef with this was the fact that, for all the things that happen in this book, the dramatic tension is very low. Sure, we worry about whether Evan and Maise will get together (and before you ask, yes, the student/teacher thing is addressed, although I'm not to the extent I would have liked), but everything else...

How do I put this?

Stuff happens. Lots of stuff happens, some of it very scary in theory. But I never worried about the characters because their fear never came through to me. I knew that Maise would find a solution - that's the kind of person she is, and she was rarely in the grips of such strong emotion that I genuinely feared for her.

The only sense of danger came from her interactions with others - Evan, Wesley, her mother - because those were situations where she had no way of knowing the outcome, no way of controlling the situation, and you know what? If the book had been just about that, it would have been strong enough to stand on its own. But it had one too many subplots which didn't add much to Maise's character, and that's why I feel disappointed.

Still, this is a very strong book, and a nice little intro for me to the NA genre. Here's to hoping more books are like this one.

Note: Image via Goodreads.

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