Unteachable: review + giveaway

September 8, 2014 2014, 4 star books, adult crossover, giveaway, mature themes, realistic fiction, Wendy 63 ★★★★½

Unteachable: review + giveawayUnteachable by Leah Raeder
Published by Atria Books on November 11, 2014
Genres: adult, contemporary
Pages: 320 pages
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
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Maise O’Malley just turned eighteen, but she’s felt like a grown-up her entire life. The summer before senior year, she has plans: get into a great film school, convince her mom to go into rehab, and absolutely do not, under any circumstances, screw up her own future.

But life has a way of throwing her plans into free-fall.

When Maise meets Evan at a carnival one night, their chemistry is immediate, intense, and short-lived. Which is exactly how she likes it: no strings. But afterward, she can’t get Evan out of her head. He’s taught her that a hookup can be something more. It can be an unexpected connection with someone who truly understands her. Someone who sees beyond her bravado to the scared but strong girl inside.

That someone turns out to be her new film class teacher, Mr. Evan Wilke.

Maise and Evan resolve to keep their hands off each other, but the attraction is too much to bear. Together, they’re real and genuine; apart, they’re just actors playing their parts for everyone else. And their masks are slipping. People start to notice. Rumors fly. When the truth comes to light in a shocking way, they may learn they were just playing parts for each other, too.

Smart, sexy, and provocative, Unteachable is about what happens when a love story goes off-script.

Sometimes when you take a chance on an indie book, you discover something incredibly special. I felt that way with Angelfall and And All the Stars, and I feel that way again with Unteachable by Leah Raeder. It’s a book I had no intention of reviewing, but when I finished it, the words just came pouring out! I’ve included my updated 2 am review below. But before that, you should know:

This is not a YA book. It’s a new adult novel with a seriously messed up romance, in which high school senior Maisie enters into a relationship with  one of her teachers. This isn’t the kind of relationship that is ever okay in real life, which is why I initially hesitated about covering it here at the blog. While all of us read across a wide variety of genres, I am mindful of the responsibility we have to our younger readers, and would remind our readers that the allure of the forbidden is what often triggers sexual fantasy.

I feel strongly about this book’s literary merit, however, and I think many adult YA readers would find this book compelling. I’m fascinated by what drives human beings to behave in ways that they know are destructive and unhealthy, and Unteachable explores one such provocative scenario with intelligence, passion, and boldness. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this book long after I finished it…and if you’re an open-minded reader, you might just feel that way, too.

vine-divider-finalThis is, by far, the most well-written romance I’ve read to date in the dubious “new adult” category–not to mention one of the best in the indie press one. There are a handful of other NAs that I’ve liked, among them One & Only, Foreplay, Faking It, Double Clutch, and Easy, but this one’s much closer to the mature YA/NA writing of The Sea of Tranquility, or even an adult literary fiction style. Albeit with characters and problems that are a lot more fucked up.

This story is basically a much better version of Slammed, which has gotten a lot of attention but I didn’t find all that compelling, particularly in the too-honorable-to-be-true teacher, and also makes an interesting companion piece to the disturbingly compelling Tampa. Unteachable is honest about how the fantasy of the older man/forbidden relationship plays into Maise’s intense relationship with her teacher Evan, as well as mostly honest in Evan’s fixation on her. It’s filled with the kind of lust and sweat and regret that you rarely get in New Adult titles, maybe because so many of them are too busy trying to appeal to YA readers that they aren’t pushing the envelope enough, or maybe just don’t have that much insight to share.

I think one of the most bold things about this book is that as messed up as the idea of this relationship is, it’s interesting to see how honestly Maise is portrayed. She’s not an innocent ripe for seduction, and her awareness of her own femininity and sexual power is shown in a way you don’t ever see in contemporary romances–I mean, why is it that you mostly only get that in urban fantasy? Most women who are 18 are aware of the potency of their attractiveness and youthfulness on some level, even if they aren’t mature enough to fully understand the consequences of their actions–or the lack of responsibility, and what that implies, in his. But the situation is put into the right context later on. I do think that a little more time could have been spent on View Spoiler », and the story might wrap up a little too neatly in some ways. But I’m okay with it, because there is a lot of attention paid to things that are also important, and the story and writing exceeded my expectations in most ways. I also like that the book gives you just enough back story for Maise being the way she is, and gives her enough self-awareness to be sarcastic/realistic about it, without becoming a cliched sobfest.

Incidentally, while the sex is extremely well-written and fairly graphic (and there’s a good amount of it, so beware, readers who like clean romances), this isn’t just sexed-up YA, as it’s not just about an obsessive romance; there’s real emotional connection between these two, as well as between all the well-drawn secondary characters. View Spoiler » Unteachable is also rounded out with worries about parents, career, identity, college, friendships–you know, all those things that NA is purportedly about but rarely is.

Unteachable was originally published by a small independent publisher, but has since been picked up by Atria Books, to be released with the new, pictured cover on October 14, 2014. The author’s next book, Black Iris, will be out from Atria in May 2015. I am very excited to see what this talented author will offer us next.


Win an advance copy of Unteachable!

Thanks to Leah Raeder and Atria Books, we have an ARC of the new edition of Unteachable to give away to our readers! It features the vibrant new cover artwork pictured above. All you have to do is fill out the Rafflecopter form and leave a thoughtful comment below telling us why you’re interested in reading this book and/or what your favorite New Adult titles are!

Open to U.S. and Canadian residents aged 18 and older.

Please remember: this is an NA/adult title with explicit sexual themes and content, and is therefore not suitable/recommended by us for most minors. That being said, adult readers who enjoy the youthful vibe of YA romances but are interested in exploring books with more sensual content should find this an easy transition.

Giveaway copy provided by the publisher and author.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

vine-divider-finalIf you’re a fairly liberal reader who enjoys boundary-pushing romance and aren’t squeamish about explicit content, give Unteachable a try. Have you read any other New Adult titles that you would recommend to us?

Wendy signature teal





I told the author I wanted her to write something dirty. This is the inscription I got instead.




63 Responses to “Unteachable: review + giveaway”

  1. Jen

    I just read this review after having read Unteachable as a NetGalley ARC back in July. I absolutely loved it. I read a lot of NA and this just stood up there with the other Atria authors I’ve read. I’m a bit wary of self-published indie NA in general because it’s chock full of authors who just aren’t good storytellers. But Unteachable just stunned me with its maturity and beautiful writing. I never felt that the sex was gratuitous at all – probably because of that emotional connection between the characters. The journey they took to overcome their own demons was extraordinary in the telling. I’m really looking forward to the next book from Raeder.

  2. Ari

    For me, it seemed to be some sort of insta-love or insta-whatever and it killed the story for me. I wanted more development in that part. But I think I’ll get back to it (I only read half of the story) and maybe I’ll change my mind by the ending.
    Ari recently posted…Review: UnDivided

  3. Margaret Dunsdon

    I would like to win this book for my daughter. She’s a new mom, but reads when she can. This sounds like a good one.

  4. Jessica R

    I’m still quite new to NA as a category but I know that if I want a really good intro to it, Unteachable is the book to read. Dahlia Adler (the rec-ing ball, as she’s lovingly known), has basically pushed this book like crazy so I know it’s a must grab. I’m really excited to hear that you feel so strongly positive about it as well, Wendy. With the two of you behind it, I know this one will be a winner!

  5. Melissa

    I had heard so many mixed reviews and wasn’t sure what to expect. After having read it, I am utterly obsessed with this book! It’s one of my all-time favorites and I would love nothing more than to win a copy for my collection.

    If you love books that push the boundaries like Unteachable, I would highly recommend Push by Claire Wallis.

  6. Diana Doan

    A friend has actually been praising this book and it’s been on my TBR list. I love angst-y, emotional reads!

  7. Sea Cho

    I have heard some questionable things about this book, but there is allure in reading about the taboo.

  8. Sea Cho

    I have heard some questionable things about this book, but there is allure in reading about the taboo.

  9. Melissa P.

    I’ve heard a lot of great reviews about this book, but after waiting so long for the paperback edition, I never got around to actually purchasing and reading the book. However, it’s still at the top of my ever-growing TBR list.

  10. Jenn M.

    I have read this book and absolutely loved it!!! Phenomenal, is all I can say about it! :)

  11. Ava Jae

    I’ve been curious about this one! I actually love NA (and YA, but this isn’t YA) and I’d heard good things about it, so it’s nice to see another good review for it. I’ll have to add it to my Goodreads list. :)

    I just recently read (and enjoyed) MAKE IT COUNT by Megan Erickson. I also recommend Sarah Harian’s books (THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE, OUR BROKEN SKY and VAULT OF SINS) if you’d like to see some really fantastic NA Spec Fic. I’ve also loved ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG by K.K. Hendin and THE SOUND OF US by Ashley Poston—both really fantastic NA reads.

    Thanks for the giveaway!
    Ava Jae recently posted…Book Review: MAKE IT COUNT by Megan Erickson

  12. Katie F

    I’ve never read any NA but have been curious as to how it feels different than a regular “adult” novel. Plus, the story line seems interesting!

  13. Sashana

    Thank you for reviewing this book. I have never heard of it before now but fully intend to pick it up. I believe that there are many well written NA books out there BUT they are usually not the well known ones. Thanks for sharing Wendy!

  14. Marianne @ Boricuan Bookworms

    Like you, normally I would shy away from this book. But your review is changing my mind! Lately I’ve been seeing a lot off buzz for this book, and I can see why! It sounds amazing and well written! I agree that Slammed was annoying because Will was far too righteous for his own good, but I still enjoyed it.

    Anyways great review Wendy!! :)

  15. Ellen

    LOVED this book and am so excited it is being re-released by Atria! The new cover is gorgeous.

  16. Haley

    Thanks for the opportunity for the giveaway! I want a hard copy of Unteachable SOOO much, but since I have it on my Kindle and am not necessarily rich enough to buy all books I want, I’ve had to hold off :)

    Unteachable is AMAZING. This coming from someone who’s basically hated/rolled her eyes as every NA book I’ve picked up so far. About two have stuck with me as being worth the read, and of the two Unteachable is above and beyond the best. Leah’s prose is amazeballs, her characters are gorgeous and flawed and funny and this dang story is still with me after reading it a year+ ago. I love the Maise and Evan have an actually relationship, and especially that they don’t ignore how the forbiddeness of what they have gives it an edge. That they comment on that and that it adds to everything they do and feel is what really sent this over the top and into my favorites.

    So incredibly well-written!

  17. Lily

    I remember reading this one and discussing it on Twitter a few months ago but like you I couldn’t get this book out of my head long after reading it. While i’d never approve of a student/teacher relationship (especially one like this one) I found myself to intrigued by the was it was handled in Unteachable. There was an emotional element in this book that isn’t shown all too much in NA and I really enjoyed that. While I don’t typically read explicit sex scenes in books I also wasn’t disturbed by the content. It all just fit the story. Also, I loved how Maise was very much aware of her power on men. She knew she was attractive and owned it. I’m so used to female MC’s being shy and not realizing how alluring they are to guys until they tell them but Maise broke that MC stereotype.
    Lily recently posted…Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3):Review

  18. Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings

    I just love the new cover on this one and reading your review makes me want to re-read my copy of this. If only it weren’t at home six hours away from my college dorm. #collegebibliophileproblems *sigh* In all seriousness though, this novel was fantastic. It completely blew apart all my preconceived notions and I was pleasantly surprised by the strong themes throughout this novel, despite the forbidden undertones. Somehow, it all just worked through this narrative. I desperately cannot wait to see what Leah writes next! Fantastic review, as always, Wendy! :)
    Keertana @ Ivy Book Bindings recently posted…Review: Heaven’s Queen by Rachel Bach

    • Wendy Darling

      I was so relieved when I saw that you liked this too, Keertana. The writing and themes were so strong, definitely leaps and bounds above most NA that’s being turned out these days. I’m sorry you’re so far away from your copy! Sounds like a winter break reread is in order.

      I hope college life is treating you well! I know you’ve been busy, but in a good way, I hope. It’s been so busy on my end, too, but I’m hoping to pop round to see what you’ve been up too in the next few days.

  19. Kristen K.

    I read this book on my Kindle and love, love, LOVED it!!! I NEED it on my shelf!!!

  20. Pili

    I am not much of a NA reader myself but I very much intrigued about your review for this one and even more since it is one of those books that has taken the jump from indie to traditional publishing!
    Pili recently posted…Tell Me Tuesdays #11!!

  21. bethany

    I did really like this book, Wendy! It’s interesting… I don’t think I thought *that hard* about how taboo the topic of the book was… maybe because SO MANY relationships are messed up and have issues of their own, so this feels like another one…. though I’m not a parent OR teacher so there’s that.

    Am looking forward to seeing how they updated (even if slightly so) the book for paper publication, and also, can I say I’m loving all these NA recommendation??? Woo TBR!
    bethany recently posted…Stitch Fix #4 and #5 {catch-up}

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh good, I’m relieved that you enjoyed it! Honestly, if this had been a flat out adult romance/erotic romance book, I wouldn’t have been bothered by it, or if she had been out of high school. But knowing that teenagers read up from their age categories, and with this one marketed as YA, I always feel like I need to be particularly careful with such touchy subjects. Maybe too careful, given that we’re a blog set up mostly for adults? Hah. Better to err on the side of caution when it comes to these things!

      I’m glad you like the NA recs! I always like hearing what other people are reading, and we should try to review more of the good ones here at TMG as well.

  22. Kate S. (@ExLibris_Kate)

    I read this after hearing so much about it, but I went into it vary wary of how this type pf relationship would be written in a way that wasn’t entirely unrealistic (like SLAMMED) or just plain creepy. I think what saved it for me was Maise’s awareness and control of her own sexuality, which somewhat neutralized the power differential that would have made it a much more disturbing book. However, it still bothered me. I think it was well written and I think taboo subjects deserve a place in books, especially when written about so honestly, but it still left me feeling little…off, somehow. Great review!
    Kate S. (@ExLibris_Kate) recently posted…Blog Tour: The Vault Of Dreamers By Caragh M. O’Brien

    • Wendy Darling

      You’re totally right that Maisie’s character made this fantasy a much more palatable story, and you make such a good point about the power being somewhat more balanced because of that. It’s still a squicky subject, though, and sometimes when I think about it, it still bothers me, too. But I think it should, being that this is such a taboo topic. I’m glad you gave it a chance, though! I’m never sure what people will think of it.

  23. Peyton

    This sounds really interesting. I actually like reading dysfunctional romances, but only when the story knows it’s a dysfunctional romance. This looks like the author knows how to deal with a really difficult subject matter. Definitely want to check out soon!
    Peyton recently posted…The Iron Trial: Review

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh yeah, this one’s fully aware that it’s a dysfuctional romance. From talking to the author online, it’s clear that the choices she made were deliberate, but I like the fact that she didn’t spell out everything for her readers, either.

  24. Katie Lowden

    I loved this book. The connection between these two was great! Thank you for the chance!!

  25. Heidi D

    I read Unteachable when it was self-published as an ebook. I was nervous going in, not because of the subject matter, but because I haven’t had much luck with the NA genre as a whole. Needless to say, Unteachable blew me away. I wish I could rec a good NA book, but like I said, it’s hard to find a decent one among all the piles of carp that make up this genre.

    Awesome giveaway. Thanks for the opportunity!

    • Wendy Darling

      I first read this as a self-published novel, too! I had zero expectations for it, but I could not put it down, the whole story and relationship was so mesmerizing. I’m so glad you felt that way, too! This sort of intensity and complexity is so rare, in any age category, but as you said, especially in NA.

      The author told me there weren’t any significant changes with this new edition, though, which I’m glad about. I love that new cover, too–I should have gotten one of the old ones as well, because she designed that herself and it was super cool.

  26. Jenny Zymola

    I love this book! It is one of my favorites! I can’t wait to read Leah’s next book. I would recommend Black Lies by Alessandra Torre. It was amazing! Thanks for the chance.

    • Wendy Darling

      Yay! Hello, fellow Raeder reader. :) I’m dying for her next book, though I’m also really hoping that she writes a f/f romance soon, too. There’s a sad lack of good ones, in every age category and genre.

      I hadn’t heard of BLACK LIES either, so I’ll have to look that up! Thank you for the rec.

  27. Bethany

    I love that this is a forbidden romance. Those are my favorite. I would recommend Offside by Shay Savage. I would classify it as slightly dark NA.

    Thanks for the giveaway :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Forbidden romances are just sexy. Half of the fun is being able to explore things you might not dream of doing in real life.

      And ooo, “dark NA,” huh? I’ll have to check that out, thanks for the rec!

  28. Danielle V

    I definitely agree with your review of Unteachable, which has become my favorite read of 2014 so far. As a reader who’s frequently moving between YA and adult romance, I found Unteachable to be a unique read that really stood out to me, and a marker of what I believe NA should always strive to be. Thanks for sharing!
    Danielle V recently posted…My Year Without a Bookshelf

    • Wendy Darling

      a marker of what I believe NA should always strive to be.

      Yes, please. I’m glad we’re seeing more New Adult books with really good writing and plotting and characterization, because for the longest time I couldn’t find anything but shallow, melodramatic contemporary romances with angsty characters. Leah Raeder’s writing definitely sets her apart from the rest, though. With some expansion, I could easily see this as adult literary fiction as well.

  29. Melissa K

    Unteachable is one of my top reads for 2014! The connection between Maise and Evan is so very intense and beautiful that you can’t help but to be taken so completely into their world that when their story is over you’re left with them imprinted in your heart. Leah’s writing is insanely beautiful and lyrical. I am psyched for her next release Black Iris!

    • Wendy Darling

      SO intense. It’s one of those I don’t want to like what’s happening here, but I do, hah. Her writing is fantastic! I have been trying to avoid reading her teasers for BLACK IRIS, but every time I glimpse one on Facebook, I’m sorely tempted. It just makes the waiting that much worse, though. I’m glad you loved this, too!

  30. Layla

    Ah, I’m glad you decided to write about this. I read it last week and have been thinking about it. I agree with pretty much everything you’ve written here – I think Leah Raeder’s writing is *great* and was honestly the only reason I could even give the book a try (my initial response to teacher / student, particularly in high school, is a world of no). I was surprised by how much I liked it, anyway.

    I actually like what’s revealed of Evan’s past in that it does seem to indicate that this is a pattern of behavior (and I guess I like that the book acknowledges that rather than trying to make his relationship with Maise the exception – while he and Maise try to differentiate their relationship from his previous relationship, I’m not sure that the book agrees with them. Admittedly, I am also approaching this from the perspective of, “Yes, this guy is a major creep, can this book still work for me anyway?” There is very little, I think, that Evan could have done for me to support his pursuit of a relationship with Maise). What I liked about this, I think, is that it’s further acknowledgment of how fucked up their relationship is, and I liked that the book doesn’t really shy away from that on any level (except maybe the optimism of the ending, a little). I don’t know. It was an interesting reading experience, in part because I do feel pretty vehemently about the utter and absolute wrongness of teacher / student relationships, and felt like the book invites you to feel that way but also then wants you to figure out if, given that, you can still somehow be weirdly on board with this relationship. (And tbh, I still feel like he’s a major creep, but I guess what I’m saying is better this than Aria / Fitz on Pretty Little Liars, if that makes sense.)

    Anyway. I’m looking forward to reading Raeder’s next book. Have you read Deeper by Robin York, Wendy? That – along with Foreplay – is some NA I really enjoyed. (I have … more conflicted feelings about the sequel, Harder, and only part of that is because of the cheesiness of the title. But I like Robin York / Ruthie Knox’s writing A LOT generally, and anyway. Pick up Deeper if you haven’t done!)
    Layla recently posted…Unteachable: review + giveaway

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, awesome–I’m glad you read this and liked it, Layla! I’m always very nervous recommending this one, because it’s such volatile stuff that I just don’t know how people will react to it. Great discussion material, though.

      I am totally in agreement with your assessment that the book presents certain scenarios but doesn’t necessarily agree with the way the characters act or the conclusions they might draw. This willing ambiguity is partly what elevates it above other books, particularly in NA, and what makes Unteachable so interesting. Like you, I’m outraged at this kind of relationship in real life, but I am always drawn to fiction that explores extremes of human behavior, and does it in a way in which you could understand, to some degree, why this sort of stuff happens. Because it does. I’ve actually had a couple of conversations with friends asking myself whether I was being a hypocrite for enjoying this book so much, because it makes me uncomfortable to think I was helping to perpetuate this kind of fetish. But this is an adult book, and one that explores taboo erotic fantasy at that.

      And yeah, her writing is fantastic. This type of story has been told over and over again by other writers, and rarely is it half as convincing/compelling as this author’s. Incidentally, Leah is a very cool cat–she writes reviews on GoodReads (hey! She’s the one who helped me steer clear of WE WERE LIARS), actually talks about books and life, and is passionate about lgbtq issues and reviewer rights. It’s funny, though–we’ve read a few of the same naughty teacher books, but we often have opposite reactions to them. Go figure.

      I’ve been meaning to read DEEPER! Thanks for the reminder. I like Ruthie Knox books, but haven’t gotten around to trying her NA yet. I”m thrilled that you and our other TMG ladies read such an eclectic mix of genres, by the way, you guys are the first people I get recommendations from! Also, I haven’t read/watched PLL so I don’t even get that reference, hah. I’m more likely to be reading books with messed up relationships instead.

  31. Nikki

    This sounds very interesting to me. Usually these stories are wrapped up in taboo erotica but I’m excited to read a book that takes the concept of teacher/student to a different level. Real emotional connection prior to being in the teacher’s class as well as them both being consenting adults, without it needing to be erotica to make it a viable story.

    • Wendy Darling

      Well…this actually is full of taboo erotica, hah. But it is also a book that takes this to a new level! It’s hard to explain what this book is like until you’ve read it. While I think you need to be a reader who’s comfortable with reading explicit sex to enjoy this book, the emotion is definitely there.