Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: Unteachable by Leah Raeder

Title: Unteachable

Author: Leah Raeder

Rating: 4 Stars

When it comes to Unteachable, I have very mixed feelings. You should know, straight off the bat, that this novel explores a student-teacher relationship, but one done right. Raeder quickly eliminates the sticky issue of rape by ensuring that her protagonist is eighteen and, moreover, she never beautifies the stark reality of this issue. Admittedly, I found this book rather difficult to connect to at first, but as the story progressed, I quickly became engrossed in the lives of these characters, my heart unwillingly giving itself over to them.

Unteachable begins in a carnival. Maise, a teenager suffering under the burden of a drug addict mother, absentee father, and general life-of-suck, meets Evan, a handsome man in his mid-thirties, and the two are drawn to one another; intensely, obsessively, crazily. Maise walks away from Evan, expecting never to meet him again, and is shocked when she sees him in her film class. As her professor, Mr. Wilke. With the sparks still striking between them, the two swiftly decide to start up a relationship, renting a room to stay in over the weekends and being careful to hide their relationship. Although these beginning scenes grate on me, only because of their utter wrongness, I love that Raeder never flinches away from acknowledging the mistakes in their relationship. Both Maise and Evan are at dark places in their life and, somehow, together they are able to cope. This is no chick-lit romance, a-la Colleen Hoover's Slammed. It's not about excessive drama or angst or staying away from one another or even doing the right thing. It's real. It's about the real-life repercussions, but also about the true feelings that blossomed between these two. And, despite the age difference, despite the built-in illegality of the issue, Raeder makes it feel so right.

Naturally, the romance is Unteachable is all-consuming and passionate, a full-out roar of fireworks and the messy ashes left behind. Its characterization, though, is also spot-on. Maise is a swirl of emotions, fragile and hurting under her strong veneer. If nothing else, Raeder truly captures the broken mother-daughter relationship in this novel. We see the effect that growing up alone has had on Maise; never having a mother to rely on and always having to fend for herself. It makes her self-reliant, stubborn, and unwilling to trust others, but these barriers are slowly worn away as the novel progresses, giving us a wonderful growth arc. In addition to Maise, though, Evan, too, broke the mold. Not only is he kind, truly caring for Maise and putting her before him, but he manages to be sexy without being an alpha-male. Unteachable is the first New Adult novel I've come across that doesn't feature an all-controlling, bulky alpha-male. And what a breath of fresh air this is. Evan comes with his own baggage - naturally - but despite all the cards against him - his age, his profession, his willingness to engage in a forbidden relationship - he still managed to win me over with his genuine affection and real tenderness. Who knew nice guys could be swoony too?

And still, my favorite aspect of this story is the fact that it captures exactly what I want New Adult to capture: messy relationships. Not only Maise's relationship with Evan or her mother, but also her friendships. With her background, Maise has been on her own for too long, so her complicated relationship with her one and only friend in this novel was charming in its realistic arc. I love that Raeder doesn't hesitate to touch upon subjects such as college or even go into the life of drugs that Maise lives in; the fact that this novel is not solely a romance makes it stand out from the crowd. Moreover, the writing is sublime. Raeder writes this novel in past tense, with Maise telling the story to the reader from a distant future in which she looks back on these events and drops cryptic hints every-so-often. Usually, this form of narration bugs me, but it worked perfectly in this scenario.

For all its plus points, though, Unteachable is not a perfect novel. I found a handful of minor plot lines to be over-exaggerated towards the end, the villain veering off the track of gray and into the disappointing territory of black-and-white. Additionally, the middle portion of this novel was...tedious. Essentially, it's a string of sex scenes, most of which could have been cut out without batting an eye. Nevertheless, despite its flaws, Unteachable is the best student-teacher relationship I've read and one of my favorite New Adult reads, right up there with Holier Than Thou and Fangirl. And, coming from someone who makes it a point to steer clear of all New Adult novels, that's high praise indeed.


  1. I'm really glad you liked this, Keertana--this one really knocked my socks off, and is EXACTLY what I'd want out of a New Adult book and so rarely find. It's so racy that I think it's turned some readers off who aren't used to erotic content, but I was really impressed with how she balanced a tricky story, unusual heroine, family drama, schooling, and...jeez, and host of other things. I agree that some of the secondary plots probably could have been improved, but overall--wow. So happy this author is writing for this age group. This is the type of NA I can get on board with.

  2. I've read a couple of new adult books dealing with student-teacher relationships this year, but neither of those managed to completely impress me (and one I did not like at all). This sounds far more promising! I could do without excessive sex scenes, but the rest seems very well done. I've been hearing a lot of great things about this title recently, so I'm definitely curious. Lovely review, Keertana! :)

  3. I'm intrigued by this one Keertana! I so enjoy exploring messy relationships in books, and this one clearly does that very well despite the small issues you had with it. I haven't read very many teacher-student relationship books (Losing It is the only one I can think of right now), so I'm kind of excited about this! Beautiful review:)

  4. I'm reading this book RIGHT NOW, Keertana! You and I are reading alike lately it seems:) This teacher/ student forbidden romance thing is a fave of mine--I feel a little pervy saying that but it's true. I'm just past the half way point in Unteachable but I already love it and think it's one of the best examples of that storyline I've read. Of course the ending will make all the difference I suppose! I browsed your review but will be back to read it fully after I'm done with the book:)

  5. Oh, wow, I can't believe you put this in the same basket with Holier Than Thou. That sounds very very promising.
    This lever of realism usually isn't for me, it makes me extremely uncomfortable, but on the other hand, I like authors who play with things that are uncomfortable without trying to justify them
    Fabulous review as usual, hon.

  6. I actually just read something similar. Although Unteachable may be a bit more "real" than the one I read.

    I think if an author decides to tackle a sensitive issue, then he or she should have the gumption to be as unflinchingly honest as possible.

    Great review, Keertana. I think I'll be adding this to my pile.

  7. Although I'm not sure about the whole relationship thing between a teacher/student. Still, you have me curious. Hm... I'm also not all about the NA genre, but if you say this is good, I must try it.

  8. Hmm. I don't think I'll check this one out, because the synopsis really does nothing for me and it sounds a bit angsty for my taste :) I'm glad you enjoyed it though! Another great NA novel I read recently was Ten Tiny Breaths by K.A. Tucker, if you're looking for more in that genre :)

  9. I have this one my to-read list and it's waiting for me on my Kindle so I hope I'll get to it soon. I was a bit concerned about all teacher-student relationship but like you said when it's done right I can take it. I've read worse things so I'll survive. I's so glad you enjoyed this one and amazing review Keertana :)

  10. You've sold me on this book Keertana, firstly because I've always been on the lookout for a decent NA book, the ones I picked up lately all seem to follow the same path and I want something that gives me more! Also student-teacher relationships have also been way overdone, I think this is the only book I've come across that again does this well. I've read a lot of reviews for this book in the last week, and I am certain that I will definitely be giving this book a go! Great review as always!

  11. I could definitely not class the wonderful Holier Than Thou and this book in the same league! I read this book after a glowing review and found it to be so badly written that I gave up.

    I'm glad you enjoyed it K, but even with the decent male MC, it still had too many of the same NA issues for me.

  12. Aww, I'm so sorry you didn't enjoy this one, Mandee! I don't think it's in the same league as Holier Than Thou either, but they're both NA novels that manage to tackle a lot of complex friendships and relationships. I can see why you failed to connect with this, though. It was worth a shot, at any rate! :)

  13. I have few friends who are stalking me all around "bookish virtual world" and telling me that I have to read this book.
    I will. I'm kind of disturbed when it comes to this topic - I know, I read more taboo themed novels than this one - but problem is that I am a teacher and it somehow feel...unethical.

    Glass @ Way Too Hot Books

  14. I need to read this book! After reading Fangirl, I've realized that so many New Adult books are like patterns with sexy scenes instead of being REAL. I feel like i need to prepare myself to read this one. But it's for sure on my radar. All of my trusted reader friends have been talking about it.


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