This Morning: Fuck it, I’m doing it. Five stars (rounded up from 4.5). But I do wish you to know that objectively it is more like a four star book, but it did so many things that I personally love that I just have to bump it up. So, you can pretend this is a Goodreads Four Review with an Ashley Five rating. (Or, we could have . . . half stars??)
Anyway! The only book I have read from Olivia Dade up until now is her latest, Spoiler Alert, which was very good, but due to the presence of a trope I am slightly allergic to, and also how I’m way too close to the fandom the book was based on, I didn’t have as good a time with it as I wanted. But boy, I had a great time with this one. I almost don’t even want to try to articulate why I loved it so much.
Our two main characters are Rose and Martin, and they are both high school history teachers in their early to mid-forties. They are both excellent at their jobs, which they love, and they are both divorced from partners who treated them pretty shittily. Martin has moved to Marysburg to be closer to his daughter Bea in her final year of high school, and a shitty dick supervisor has decided that the new male teacher takes precedence over the female teacher who has been there for fifteen years, and so they end up in close working proximity to each other, sharing a classroom (which Rose previously had to herself), and Martin is given Rose’s beloved World History Honors classes. All of this makes Rose very angry, but she is nothing but professional to Martin. Because Martin is a superhero of subtlety and emotions, he recognizes all of this and steps carefully, all while being attracted to, respectful of, and intimidated by Rose, who dresses all in black, and has a very confident presence that she carefully curates as protective emotional armor.
The book follows them through the school year as they get to know one another and work out their various issues. There’s a sort of role reversal here. Martin is the emotionally open and vulnerable half of their partnership, and Rose has the role the emotionally constipated man might usually take in these types of stories, where they are the protector, and carer of damsels in distress (Martin plays that role here!), and they have to learn to be vulnerable to the other person. That is most definitely what Rose has to go through here, but they are both so refreshingly adult about all of it. They communicate, they share their boundaries, when one of them does something hurtful they acknowledge it to the other. Both of them have emotionally traumatic pasts that have lingering effects in their lives, and the main conflict of the book is that the people they’ve become as a result are ridiculously compatible, except for the one way they’re not.
Plus, I just loved both of them! Martin is a kryptonite character for me, intuitive and kind and smart and thoughtful. Watching him ask to be accepted for himself and hold that boundary firm made my heart hurt so bad for him. And Rose was the exact opposite, instead of opening up after her trauma, she closed all the way down. And she’s so caring despite her cold exterior, and isn’t afraid to use her intimidating presence and intelligence to get what she wants. The side characters were also so lovely, I wanted to hug them all. (Except the main antagonist, who I wanted to punch in the dick.)
One thing that Olivia Dade is really good at is creating specific detailed settings for her characters to inhabit. In Spoiler Alert, it was the world of fandom and fanfic. Here, it’s the public school setting (I believe she used to be a teacher, so she knows what she’s talking about). It is my serious favorite in books when characters are good at their jobs, and we get to see it! And not only that, but that details and specifics from their jobs actually move the plot along. Vague job settings and hand waviness bothers me, and that was not at all what we got here.
Basically, this review is all over the place, but to sum up, I loved this, and I am ordering myself a hard copy ASAP. Will definitely be re-reading.
[4.5 stars, rounded up]