It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Elliot Wake’s work. CAM GIRL is one of the books I point at every time someone asks me for a book request. (…As long as I think they’d be okay with the subject matter. Cause it’s…uh. A bit dark. XD)
It’s also not a huge secret that I’m a sucker for the teacher/student trope in romance, though I can be a little picky about how it’s executed. But I’m like that with most romances, so that’s not specific to the trope. So when I realized that Wake’s first novel (I believe, back when he was writing as Leah Raeder) was a student/teacher romance, I jumped on it so fast.
(And you know, let it sit on my Kindle for way too long. But…again. That’s kinda my MO.)
Now, I was keeping two things in mind walking into the novel. One, this was Wake’s early work, so it wasn’t going to be as polished as his later stuff. I’d been warned about that going into BLACK IRIS as well, so I was pretty sure I knew what I was walking into. Two, was the same thing that I walk into all romances with: the pacing of the relationship was going to be way faster than I wanted it to be.
Both of those counts were true. And it still charmed me just as much as I wanted it to.
As it is a bit of a tendency in Wake’s work, our lead female is a bit of a broken soul. Maise O’Malley is old for her grade, both in spirit and in age. And when she goes to the carnival on one of the last days before school starts again, a one-night fling with a gorgeous older man is just one more in a line of men she’ll sleep with and never think of again. Even…if there seems to be something different about this guy. Even for a fling, he wants a connection…he wants to know her name. And he stays on her mind, long after when she might have wanted to forget him.
But of course, the film studies class she fights her way in to has a brand new teacher in charge: Evan Wilke, the man from the carnival. And Maise’s life flips upside down.
I figure there are two ways to write the teacher/student dynamic effectively. One is the slow burn, where the tension builds up in the classroom until they desperately try to find some subtle way to diffuse it. The other is how Wake tackles this one: have them meet outside of the school year, have the fire flash of a connection, and then force them into a classroom together.
Even in his early days, Wake’s writing is intense and evocative. The struggle between Maise’s desire to keep all interpersonal relations at an arm’s distance and her desperate attraction to Evan is palpable, and visible in each scene we get with them. Wake doesn’t shy from the party mentality of late high school students, nor does he pretend that Evan and Maise live in a bubble where no one else is going to see them undressing each other with their eyes in class. Rumors fly, secrets are kept, and as it must be, when it all comes to light everything struggles to keep from falling off the cliff. Maise has friends (well, a friend at least) outside of Evan, and Evan has an existence outside of Maise. It’s well balanced without seeming forced. It’s real, something that not all romances can convince the reader.
Is it perfect? No. There seem to be a lot of plot lines going on at once, and several of them I question their ability to exist in a world outside of fiction. Even in a book, there is a level of suspension of disbelief (a concept Evan would be well familiar with) that needs to be upheld and that barrier wavers several times. But, I have to admit to my personal bias being that I grew up in a very small town, went to a small college, and never really ventured into the darker paths of my schools. Maybe it’s more realistic than I know.
All things said and done, it’s still a fun read. It’s a whirlwind from start to finish, with a good balance of wanting to cuddle the both of them until everything is better–and then smacking their heads around until they stop acting like morons. I would be interested to see how Wake would tackle this story now, as opposed to back when it was first written, but perhaps that’s neither here nor there.
It’s Elliot Wake. It’s fun. Go read it.
Rating: *** (Worth a Look)