Friday, June 19, 2009

Review: Teach Me by R. A. Nelson

Carolina "Nine" Livingstone, an apt name for the daughter of a physicist, takes a poetry unit for her last semester of high school thinking it will give her a broader scope on life. It does that all right. For while Nine has plenty of smarts, she's not so accomplished when it comes to relationships. Nine falls for the new poetry teacher hard and fast, and it isn't long until Mr Mann begins to respond to Nine's hankering to be taught.

What surprised me when I picked this book up from the library shelf was the number of glowing reviews it received in its year of publication (2005), not only from bloggers and authors, but from librarians. With its provocative title and subject matter, I expected titillation from Teach Me, perhaps even smut. But how smutty can a book be if the Iowa City School District gives it the Best Young Adult Literature Award?

The writing in Teach Me is exquisite. Incomparable. Utterly original. I'm finding it hard to write anything but platitudes right now. The writing is razor-sharp but never miserly; stuffed full of science and historical anecdotes but never tedious; emotional but never, ever cliched; extreme but never cringe-worthy.

I think my emotional response to this book can be best summed-up by Nine herself:

There is not a name for what I'm feeling. There is no description for it. To call it yearning would be like calling the ocean water. Whatever this thing is, it shoves you inside itself and you can't measure its boundaries because they go too far and you don't have enough time. Or you move toward the boundaries and they move away. There has been an earthquake in my life. Catastrophic, civilization-ending.

This book is shocking, haunting, erotic, beautiful. It will make your throat ache with its sheer perfection.

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