Sunday, January 03, 2016

Even When You Lie To Me, by Jessica Alcott

Charlie hasn't had much experience with boys and has limited herself to superficial crushes on her teachers.  But in her senior year, she develops strong feelings for her young English teacher.  And, as far as she (and almost everyone else around them) can see, he shares at least some of those feelings.  What develops between them is a very awkward dance of passion and denial, painstakingly dissected over the school year.

Like most student-teacher romances, this is a tragedy and can only end badly.  But, even if the book fulfills some expectations, Alcott takes this story of passion and restraint in some very new directions.  First of all, there is an intense focus on Charlie's maturing sexual desire, not in a pornographic sense that we are more used to in popular culture, but in a way that is more authentic and grown-up.  There's some pretty explicit fantasizing and masturbation scenes in this book that will titillate younger readers and open some eyes.  But the purpose and focus of all this is to describe the full breadth of desire and take the story beyond some schoolgirl crush.  Secondly, there's a lot of depth to the adult characters as well.  Some readers may not be able to relate to how frank and open the discussions between teachers and students are in this novel, but I can remember moments of unguarded conversation like this in my own school.  And, in the way I always like, adults are portrayed with the same faults and anxieties as the kids.  Finally, the novel ends on a really special note that surprised and delighted me.  This is a story which you know is going to end wistfully, but the conclusion (which could easily have become a strung-out epilogue) packs a major punch and stayed true to the overall sense of the story.

This is an insightful novel but also a very mature book and many readers (adults included) will be uncomfortable with both the subject matter and the writing itself.  I'd actually place it in the New Adult (NA) genre, not so much because of the explicit sexual nature of the book but because of the serious and honest treatment of those sex scenes.

No comments: