I requested a galley from Ms. Raeder because I saw another blogger mention her book, UNTEACHABLE. She quickly provided it and I got right to work jumping into Maise’s world. It wasn’t a big leap. Here’s the first paragraph:
When you’re eighteen, there’s fuck-all to do in a Southern Illinois summer but eat fried pickles, drink PBR tallboys you stole from your mom, and ride the Tilt-a-Whirl till you hurl. Which is exactly what I was doing the night I met Him.
I had to laugh. I’m a 30-something high school teacher. I’m from the middle of Illinois myself. Not exactly Southern Illinois, unless you’re from Chicago. Everything south of I-80 is Southern Illinois to them.
So, I told her as much, not realizing she was from Chicago. And she replied:
And as someone from Chicago, yes…I consider even the south ‘burbs to be “Southern Illinois.” 😛
We sort of have a chip on our shoulders about Chicago out here in the corn. This doesn’t keep us off the Amtrak to visit the Windy City as often as we can, though. It’s a love/hate thing.
As far as the book is concerned, it’s a lot of things.
The geekery abounds in the best possible way. Music geekery. Film geekery. ’80s geekery. Even architecture geekery. So much lovely geekery. Raeder even gives a shout out to the nerds.
I respect people who get nerdy as fuck about something they love.
If you’re not familiar with the HIGHLIGHT function on your Kindle, you need to get acquainted with it when you read Unteachable. Raeder describes herself as lyrical and I nod to that assessment. Whole paragraphs of prose bend around each other, flowing like water. I found myself re-reading a lot just to really pick up on the subtleties.
As for plot, it’s a teacher/student forbidden storyline. The nice thing is this is stated right up front…I’m not spoiling anything. In fact, the book’s “blurb” says it quite well.
I met him at a carnival, of all corny places. The summer I turned eighteen, in that chaos of neon lights and cheap thrills, I met a man so sweet, so beautiful, he seemed to come from another world. We had one night: intense, scary, real. Then I ran, like I always do. Because I didn’t want to be abandoned again.
But I couldn’t run far enough.
I knew him as Evan that night. When I walked into his classroom, he became Mr. Wilke.
I don’t know if what we’re doing is wrong. The law says one thing; my heart says screw the law. I can’t let him lose his job. And I can’t lose him.
In the movies, this would have a happy ending. I grow up. I love, I lose, I learn. And I move on. But this is life, and there’s no script. You make it up as you go along.
And you don’t pray for a happy ending. You pray for it to never end.
Maise and Evan aren’t always likeable. Secrets and emotional fuckery abound.
Maise is from the wrong side of the tracks, having lived a life of neglect. Her mother is nearly intolerable, but you understand her dynamic with Maise right away. This existence has shaped her fully and now she has to decide whether or not to become a forgone conclusion.
Evan’s background comes out slowly, but it’s clear he’s THAT teacher. The one YOU had a crush on in high school or college.
He listened to us earnestly, his face filled with curiosity, amusement, respect. He was smarter than us but not smug. He shared his intelligence like a secret, making us conspirators in it. I could feel the whole class falling in love with him.
Evan offers to do the “right” thing a lot. Enough to make him sympathetic and not creepy. Maise’s baggage is a matched set and she drags it behind her with pride. She’s been looking for love in all the wrong places (cue music), but she’s fully aware of the cliche.
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 being my teacher that gave me a wild, terrified thrill every time we touched, infusing me with adrenaline, making my skin prickle. 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 part of it.
There’s a lot of searching going on here on both sides of this relationship.
“Did you see her?” I said. He raised his eyebrows questioningly. “The real me.” “She’s right here,” he said, and kissed me.
The self-assessment is always right up front. You’re not left wondering if they’re going to figure themselves out.
The brain is an incredible multitasker. At the same time that it’s piercing itself with superheated needles of anguish, it’s ruthlessly making plans, contingencies, plotting out a future, giving zero fucks whether it’ll ever see it. On the day I die, it’ll be calculating what to have for dinner as it bombards itself with pain signals from my amputated legs or my clocked-out heart. And so, when I stopped crying, I wiped the snot off my upper lip and took out my phone.
The minor characters all bring a vital piece of the story and aren’t just window dressing. Wesley is the best friend who you know has his own secrets and baggage. You’ll love Wesley’s mother, Siobhan. I want to have coffee with her. You will, too. Maise has her sized up in two seconds.
As soon as I stepped foot inside I could tell what kind of mom he had: the kind who gave a shit.
Even before she speaks, you know she knows our Maise. Siobhan never tries to save her, though. There’s really no need.
She smiled at me like she knew everything about me and was proud. She was beautiful.
The word “clever” keeps floating around in my head. Raeder is in touch with the witty, sarcastic, and ironic parts of herself. The cleverness comes across as kind, though. Never bitchy. Never arrogant. It holds its breath while keeping its tongue firmly planted in its cheek.
You read things in romance novels like he made me melt, knowing this is physically impossible. Girls are not pats of butter. Yet my body was doing a damned fine imitation of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Girl, dissolving against the side of the house.
The age difference is described throughout. Evan in his 30s. Maise in her late teens. And yet…
As I sat there with his arm around me, his easy laugh in my ear, I thought, How different are we? We came from such different times, his era murky and analog, mine bright and digital, and yet we got each other’s jokes, had a similar way of looking at the absurdity of the world and laughing. How much of it was real, and how much the chemical honeymoon my brain was on?
A shout out for all the St. Louis love. We love St. Louis here at midwestgalleygirl. It’s a city that needs more people to love it, too.
Don’t skip this book if you can handle a story about the spaces between black and white. One that embraces stereotypes and then turns them a bit so they no longer fit the mold. The ending is incredibly satisfying, but Maise’s going to make you work for it, damnit.
Find Leah Raeder on the interwebs: