I received this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I haven’t read Olivia Dade before. I thought she was one of the authors I follow on Twitter, but she was not. She is now, though. Teach Me was a lovely read with +40 characters who behaved like they had lived lives, and actual positive fat representation. It’s out May 30th.
Rose and Martin are teachers at the same high school, both teaching history classes. They are equals in their credentials, but Martin has just moved to the area and is new to the school district. A bully in the school district’s central administration tries to use Martin to take Rose down a peg. Rose recognizes that it isn’t Martin’s fault, Martin realizes he is being used as a tool by a bully. There is no meet cute here.
Rose maintains a professional face with her coworkers, only warming up when the students are involved. She is cool, composed, a bit icy, and unconcerned with making others comfortable. She is a fat woman over 40 who refuses to disappear. Martin is a cinnamon roll – supportive, kind, recently-ish divorced and insecure. Despite that, he would like to be one of the people she smiles at with warmth, and he is willing to put in the time.
When he laughed, she stilled for a moment, her smile dying.
He didn’t understand what had happened. But he wanted that smile back, so he worked for it. “Funny. I was just thinking I should return her to the cabbage patch and tell them there’d been a clerical error.”
And there it was again. That incandescent curve of her lips. This time, because of something he’d said. Him, Old Sobersides with the Resting Proctologist Face.
Rose and Martin seduce and flirt by being competent professionals, invested in their students, observant, respectful and kind human beings.
There’s no way to get to 40 without emotional baggage. Rose and Martin have baggage and that baggage is an even larger wall between them than the bully in central administration. The baggage they carry causes miscommunications, misunderstandings, and brings them to an impasse. However, they are never disrespectful of the other’s baggage. They understand that each has earned that baggage even while they are unable to lay down their own burdens.
There is so much awfulness in the world right now, that I crave kindness. Olivia Dade has loaded her book with kindness on every page. More importantly, it is a robust kindness with boundaries. Rose goes out of her way to show Martin professional courtesy. She makes sure he has the information, space and tools necessary to succeed. She does not go out of her way to make him feel personally welcome. In another book, other characters may have considered her bitchy, in Teach Me, she has no obligation to make herself uncomfortable to make him feel better. There is never a moment on which Rose’s size is played for humor. There is never even a hint that she or anyone else thinks she shouldn’t eat food or feel guilty about it. I almost cried that she was allowed to enjoy food and that’s all it was – food she enjoyed and wanted to share. I want more books like this, books where people are kind to each other and kind to themselves.