Initial reaction: I think “Unteachable” is definitely one of the better NA titles I’ve picked up in my reads this year. I liked the development of the relationship between Maise and Evan as well as the interspersed conflicts that occurred within the narrative. The writing in turns was beautiful – like watching a reel of several interconnected scenes. But even with the style of the narrative complimenting the themes and relationship to a film class, I still felt like I wanted a little more from the narrative, and perhaps I think it tied some ends a little *too* neatly.
Probably going to rank somewhere between 3 or 3.5 stars. I’m going to give myself a night to sleep on it and decide in the morning.
Leah Reader’s “Unteachable” broke another long streak of misses in the New Adult group for me, because not only was this book written and structured well, it had a female protagonist that was strong and fun to follow in turns. Among its stronger points are the structuring of the characters, the prose, and the chemistry, internal conflict, and development between leads. There are some caveats I’ll get into in the extended parts of this review, but I’ll first focus on the plot and what this narrative did well.
The story revolves around 18 year old Maise O’Malley – she’s Irish, she’s blunt, she’s a teen vying for film school in the future and ultimately trying to find her way despite a rather rough upbringing. She’s attending the fair one evening, breaks the “rollercoaster virginity” of a guy who catches her eye. 😛 The two hit it off really well together, both in humor and sexual chemistry. Maise doesn’t think she’ll see the guy again, though she wants to, but fate has a way of working against any tale she may tell. Maise figures out the hard way when she goes back to school, coerces her way back into a class that she reserved since the previous year, and finds out her new film teacher is, in fact, the guy she slept with.
I actually believed, in initial turns, Evan’s and Maise’s relationship more than any teacher-student relationship I’ve read in NA so far. Their coming together and problems there on feel like an actual story and not a “formula” if you will, which many authors are guilty of in this genre in comparison. At least you get the message right off the bat that these two know they shouldn’t be seeing each other because of a conflict of interest, but at the same time, there still seemed to be a shirking of that responsibility because of the things they do after that notation. Especially in the steps they try to keep their relationship on the DL, so to speak. But there’s more to the story than just Evan and Maise’s relationship. Maise has to deal with a guy her age who works with and crushes on her in film class (Wesley), a mother who has a drug and debt problem, a jealous rich rival who may be onto her secret relationship, and ultimately questioning her route in life that she wishes to go. These are all valuable conflicts and I appreciated that Reader allowed us to follow Maise as she navigates these difficult turns, making her far more dimensional a character and having palpable challenges to face head-on than most heroines in this genre do. For what its worth, she doesn’t run away, she actually DOES deal with these conflicts responsibly for someone of her particular age. That doesn’t mean she’s perfect in every challenge she comes up against, but at least she’s willing to admit when she’s wrong, call someone else out on their B.S. and work towards what she wants.
That said, I will say there are things about “Unteachable” that presented themselves to me as caveats for the overarching read, a few that I’ll admit I either couldn’t shake completely from my suspension of disbelief, or it was a matter of structure in the overarching story.
For one – too many sex scenes for the length of the narrative. Yes, I know in something of an erotic or NA read as this was in spurts, sexy time scenes were a part of the rolling dynamic, and I liked the chemistry of the leads in those and outside of those scenes. However, for me it was too much for the respective length of the narrative with the overarching time it took to transition from one part to the next – it didn’t feel balanced with the rest of the narrative. I do say they were well written, but given the short film-like structure of the scenes and flutter of the transpiring prose depicting the characters’ lives, those scenes – in inclusion – could’ve been better spaced apart so that it didn’t seem like one encounter came right after the next.
Another issue I had, that maybe others wouldn’t be bothered by in the overarching narrative, were the resolutions to some of the more complicated problems the narrative fortold. The vast majority of the resolutions I didn’t have a problem with in Maise’s personal circles, loved the fact that Maise pretty much put an ultimatum to her mother, loved how she handed Wesley’s behind to him when even his own mother (Siobhan, whom I liked) did the very same over a significant conflict in the story. I did think the resolution to two aspects of the story were a little hard for me to buy – like the blackmail scenario from the girl who knew about Evan and Maise’s relationship. I think her character was probably one of the few that had singular dimensions to her – in that she was a clear antagonist, but not much else. It would’ve been better if we could’ve seen a little beyond that for the resolution of it to make better sense (Maise gets a personal note from the girl’s father and a really big payoff from that venture.) The revenge was sweet for what the girl did to Maise, but I had a hard time with the details of it, I guess. It’s hard for me to put into words what went wrong there, but it didn’t completely sell me.
The other was with the revelation about Evan. Oh, man. It kinda rubbed me the wrong way considering he has a “history”, and most readers of this will probably know what I mean once they get to that part. That seemed to me not only underdeveloped for the measure of the reveal, but also too easily resolved for the gravity it has in the story, even for what transpires after that. I think those looking for a satisfying ending would be fine with the narrative in the turns of what happened, but for me, I guess it didn’t pull me in the way it did for others because I had a problem with it – considering the magnitude and nature of that reveal and the effect on the perception of the character. Granted, I know people have their past issues, but somehow – I think that reveal could’ve had better handling for its nature/development. It was kind of just loaded on the reader at a latter point in the story. I liked the fact that the characters discussed their issues and faced their conflicts head on that were noted for their ages and maturity, but I did think some of the conflicts had solutions that didn’t necessarily match the weight of the matter that they held. Again, probably a personal thing and I think that’s the best way that I can explain where the book didn’t grab me as well as I was hoping it would along the journey.
For what its worth, I did like this quite a bit, and I would recommend it as a refreshing read for its leading characters, conflicts and turns of prose. But some of its caveats did affect my reading experience.
Overall score: 3/5 stars.
Note: I received this as an ARC from the author. 🙂