Change We Can Believe In

Unteachable - Leah Raeder

Rambling review, I'm sorry.

I'll start off with another apology for judging this book by the sheer amount of squee-ing it got when it came out. I've been burned one too many times by this genre and I apologize for being such a snob who wouldn't have given this a go if not for reading a review by someone that is outside the typical NA fangirl clique (where I used to belong before it became a cesspool of regurgitated tropes, cheesy lines and boring sex scenes).

Followed by an innocuous quote because I can choose one of the (checks) 50 highlights I had on my reader but they were all the very reasons why I thought this would be anything but majestic.

I sat on a curb in a pool of whiskey-colored light, skipping gravel and shards of broken glass across asphalt. The storm front had finally broken, tatters of cloud pulling apart like cotton candy and sprinkling the sky with the bright sugar grains of stars.



When I saw one of my friends' quotes from this book (which are a lot like that one), I was initially put off because the pretentiousness oozes off emitting Eau d' Douche, or the scent preferentially worn by authors who mask a weak plot with superfluous similes and metaphors which come across as literary equivalents of Instagramming your boobs or a duck-face selfie.

It's not. 

The thing with choosing to deliver your story with an arsenal of "Gibbous Moons", "Parallelograms fucking Isoceles Triangles" and "Zircon Curtains" is that the story has to be worth all that fuss. There should be some weight to the characters, the dialogue realistic and separate form all that fancy shmancy poetic narrative. Enough to give credence to all that acid-hazed descriptives where the color of the leaves have a distinct scent and the sound of the city tastes like, I don't know, bacon. Enough to distract me from the fact that this is being told in an 18-year old's POV who may just be tripping on an acid-fuelled recollection.

My notes from the early chapters were wondering if this was some darker version of Slammed because let's be honest, the student-teacher thing is hardly groundbreaking in this genre. And the May-December affair in this one is not so bad, but then having read Sixteen, Sixty-one can do that too you. Speaking of, what is it with Robert Frost and the "Two Roads diverging in a yellow wood?" Is that like the international motto for the older man-younger woman plot device?

But I digress.

Then I started to feel like watching a Wes Anderson/Sofia Coppola film climaxing to Darren Aronofsky, Requiem for A Dream levels of heartache. The pace was frenetic and the focus charmingly schizophrenic with Maise going off into these tangents, like breaking the space-time continuum and having a conversation with someone where you wonder if it's a memory or she's just pushing the creativity of her sarcasm. 

It's like New Adult deconstructed and I felt Raeder pushed a lot of boundaries with this one, rewriting some conventions. "Your love is my drug" was mentioned NOT ONCE but it was EVERYWHERE between EVERY LINE. The usual suspects are still there: The precocious and strong heroine with the daddy issues and the meth addict mom. The mysterious and seemingly broken hot teacher she's drawn to. The funny best friend and his unrequited love. All these components, reexamined and filmed under different filters taking you to uncomfortable paths of leastmost resistance. Put together and sewn tight with Laini Taylor-esque lyrical vibe which worked gloriously MOST of the time. (Because Kim reminded me of the 'honey' anomaly. Yes. Ick.)


It wasn't as hot tonight, and a restless wind raked through the grass, smelling of loam and barley. From here the carnival lights looked like fireflies swirling madly in place, trapped under an invisible jar. Just like me.

That Karina Halle-laced sharp wit and edge.


"You still see him?"
"So you really do have a thing. It wasn't just 'Fuck me, Mr. Wilke?'"
"Oh," I said lazily, "I still say that."

And yeah, throw in some John Green philosophy in that mother.


What if this is all we have? This closeness, this space between breaths, holding each other like air in our lungs, the oxygen metabolizing into our blood in a thrilling, ephemeral rush?
How could it ever, ever be enough?

As written by someone who may or may not have a science degree.

It did falter some and more often than not, attempting to please more than one master should be a catastrophic fail but all things considered, this pulled it off well enough. I guess I'm just lucky enough I have a little bit in me all of the masters this tried to please.

This regressed back, successfully capturing what should make New Adult books interesting to me. That fleeting moment in someone's life when they're to young to be adults and too old to be children. How a character like Maise sees the world from that standpoint and how she made sense and logic of it and make decisions as a wise adult trapped in a high school senior's body. The depths of which were cleverly laced with the simplistic flavor of the sexually charged, forbidden relationship between a student and her teacher.

I think my favorite is the ending. It's like a Rorschach Test. The pessimist, the optimist, the romantic, the naive... everyone will label it differently. Is it an HEA? Could it really be as simple as that? That last moment, where they reach for each other's hands? A poignant bookend to where we started, but was also giving me flashbacks to the ending of The Graduate. Which, if you haven't seen it, ISN'T an HEA but more of an ominous ever after. 

This book works on so many levels. You can enjoy it for the erotically taboo content that it offers and walk away satisfied or you can see it as a coming of age tale of an 18-year old woman and a 32-year old boy or give pause and think, look beyond what you're reading and listen to what it's really telling, schooling you about.

"And the whole time I wondered, if you weren't my teacher, who would you be?"

Hold on, kids. There might be hope yet for this genre.