Teach Me

R. A. Nelson, Author
R. A. Nelson, Author . Penguin/Razorbill $16.99 (264p) ISBN 978-1-59514-084-5
Paperback - 272 pages - 978-1-59514-085-2
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Although Nelson shows courage in tackling a controversial topic—the sexual relationship between a teacher and high-school student—too much rings false in this contemporary debut novel. The affair itself seems highly improbable. Narrator Carolina, a senior who is "a little top-heavy in the sciences," takes a poetry class and falls head-over-heels in love with her English teacher, Mr. Mann, who starts visiting her at the hamburger joint where she works. One night after work he leads her behind the local Wal-Mart for the first of many make-out sessions (Mr. Mann does have the sense to wait until Carolina turns 18 before he sleeps with her). Despite the flirting that goes on at school, no one (not even Carolina's best friend Schuyler, who knows she has a crush on her teacher) suspects how far things have gone. The affair ends abruptly when Mr. Mann becomes engaged to another woman, and Carolina resorts to some childish acts of revenge. Even readers who are able to swallow the melodramatic events may have trouble believing the heroine, who is smart enough to throw out obscure references ("Keep your war girdle on, Hippolyte," she tells Schuyler), yet too naïve to see that she is being victimized. The book sends a mixed message to young adults. It's unclear what, if anything, Carolina has learned from her mistakes, and in a dramatic rescue scene, Mr. Mann, who is never penalized for his sexual and emotional abuse, is cast disturbingly as a tragic hero. Ages 14-up. (Sept.)

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