We did a lot of reading this weekend. Our Pacific Northwest weather was very persistent with rain, wind, and just damp. Luckily there is an endless supply of great books at out local library and it’s only a 5 min drive away!
I decided to read Even When You Lie to Me by Jessica Alcott. Even When You Lie to Me is Alcott’s break through YA novel and I was very impressed with her prose and description about an improper love story between a student and her high school English teacher. Here is the synopsis:
Charlie, a senior, isn’t looking forward to her last year of high school. Another year of living in the shadow of her best friend, Lila. Another year of hiding behind the covers of her favorite novels. Another year of navigating her tense relationship with her perfectionist mom.
But everything changes when she meets her new English teacher. Mr. Drummond is smart. Irreverent. Funny. Hot. Everyone loves him. And Charlie thinks he’s the only one who gets her.
She also thinks she might not be the only one with a crush.
In this stunning debut, Jessica Alcott explores relationships—and their boundaries—in a way that is both searingly honest and sympathetic.
Charlie is a sympathetic character, if you have ever felt like an outsider (and who hasn’t?) you will relate to her socially awkward struggles. Alcott has fun incorporating classic love stories into Mr. Drummond’s lesson plans: Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. Using these tragic love stories for Mr. Drummond’s lesson plans, Alcott sets the stage and tone of her novel. Charlie’s English teacher Mr. Drummond has all of the makings of a modern Heathcliff, he has a tragic past, he is mysterious, and he seems so close and yet out of reach for 17 year old Charlie. Alcott does a wonderful job of vilifying him to the point of being disgusted with him and then pulls him back into a some-what sympathetic character through Charlie’s eyes. Alcott played with the idea of age through Charlie and Mr. Drummond by making Charlie seem much older than 17 and making Mr. Drummond as emotionally immature as a teenager.
I have heard of too many women who had teachers that were vulgar in their actions or speech. So as an adult reading this story, I wanted to protect Charlie from beginning to end. While reading Alcott’s novel I saw some of my high school teachers in Mr.Drummond. I had the cool young teacher that everyone loved and adored. There were also times when he crossed the line and became too involved with student’s personal lives (never romantically though). I also had a teacher that was a flat out perv. There were rumors that every year this corrupt teacher would pick out senior girls who he planned to sleep with after graduation. I saw first-hand accounts of him touching students inappropriately and saying obscene insults to his female students. So, which teacher was Mr.Drummond? The caring teacher who got too personal or the total perv? I think he was a little bit of both.
As an adult reader I applaud Charlie’s feminist friend Asha who is wise beyond her years. She disapproves of the inappropriate behavior of Mr. Drummond, but still doesn’t totally hate the guy. She can’t help but smile at his jokes and succumb to his charm like the rest of her peers, but she is also wary of him. I think Alcott wants her readers to see Mr. Drummond through Asha’s eyes. She wants the reader to know that romancing his student is completely wrong, but she doesn’t let you forget that charm and charisma can easily sway high school students (and adults).
At one point Charlie asks “What is the sublime?” and Mr. Drummond responds, “The idea of something being simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.” Alcott took an ugly subject and with her thorough and thought provoking prose she turns it into a work of art. Alcott examined the subjects of body image, feminism, power, and sexuality through the intricate charters she created.
This novel was a quick read, but try to savor the text. Examine the way the book makes you feel and give it the thought it deserves.
I would love to hear your thoughts on Even When You Lie to Me.