Ashleigh, well she prefers Ash, is just about to take her A exams in a few months and figure out what to do with her life. But….for now its mostly hanging out with her best friend Catherine (although you really should call her Cat) and trying to find a boyfriend. She and Cat plan to glide through school and go with what comes next. But everything changes when she walks into English and finds a new teacher has taken over. Miss Murray. Just out of college, young, hip, smiles a lot (you know like normal people??) The very first day she reads a poem with curse words in it. Curse words! It felt so….so real. And Miss. Murray actually cares about her students. She challenges them. She makes them feel things. She makes them grow. And she’s challenged Ash the most. Join the debate team! Do better! Talk to me. And through it all Ash starts to discover a new side of herself. One in which she feels the intense, heart-racing passion every time Miss Murray comes near. But what does it mean?
So let’s get the two obvious questions out of the way first. Am I now or ever been a young woman? No. Am I now or ever been British and used words like snogging and A exams in a casual conversation? Sadly, no. But I pride myself on offering an honest review of a book and that’s what you’ll get here.
When I finished reading this book I thought that this was going to be an easy review to write. I knew what questions I wanted to answer, what I wanted to focus on, I had the arguments down pat, and the statements I wanted to make. But when it comes down to it…it isn’t. Because I want to share everything about this book. I want to sit impatiently while someone else reads it so we can talk about it. And then share it with other people. I want to provide spoilers and plot while sharing the story so that people understand just what this book is sharing. I want people to understand how fantastic this book is. And yes, I said the book is fantastic. I have some minor quibbles with it, but overall…this is a book that I’m happy to be reviewing. So please pardon the rather rougher review than I’m used to writing. I’m trying not to spoil the book so that you can enjoy it as well.
When I’m reading a book, no matter what it’s about, I want to feel connected to that main character by the end of the first chapter. Something has to grab me about them and I really prefer when that person feels real. That I can have an actual conversation with them. And that’s what I found with Ash. By the end of that first chapter I found that I could slip myself into her shoes and understand what she was going through. Those feelings of starting to feel like a grown up. Of being able to drive a car (even if your mom has to ride with you), of feeling somewhat lost at a party even if the party is supposed to be for you, of trying to find those people, your people, in a crowd that seems so vast. Ash became real for me and stayed real throughout the book. I could understand what she was going through! And that made all of the difference in the world when I moved further into the meat of the story.
The secondary characters in the book felt less developed to be honest, which is one of the minor quibbles I have with the book. But at the same time, I understand it. First there’s only so many pages you can write and developing all of the characters would take time away from Ash and her story. And let’s be honest, that’s what I wanted to read. Second, in the real world people pass through your life and sometimes all you get is the barest understanding of them, before they’re on their way again. And that’s what its like here.
So when it comes to the story itself…man where do I even start? OK first of all this is not a romance book. Despite what it looks like from the official book description, this book focuses on life. Identity. Future. All of those things that we worry about when we’re about leave high school and go into the unknown (and that some of us still worry about.) Second of all this isn’t a book about LGBTQ. It features characters in that group for sure. But it’s more about how being in that group makes up part of who they are. You know, how things work in the real world (unless of course you have your head buried in the sand.)
Ultimately though, this book is like reading Ash’s diary. We get a glimpse of who she is and how she sees the world. We watch as her parent’s marriage crumbles. She meets a boy, gets into a big fight with her best friend, breaks up with said boy, maybe might be/might not be pregnant, and makes up with best friend.
Now second minor quibble here, the might be/might not be pregnant thing was a bit over the top for me. I mean seriously over the top. And while it sets up a plot point that needed to happen, the reconciliation between Ash and Cat (her best friend), I think there could be other ways of handling this. Like, maybe not having Ash and Cat have the falling out. Or having it over something else. I don’t know. But that bit upped the cliche value of the story a bit too much for me. But it gets better.
And in between all of that, she starts to discover who she is. She discovers a passion for writing, for thinking, for speaking up and speaking out! Both of which she discovers courtesy of Miss Murray, the English teacher. Who takes an interest in Ash. Who takes an interest in helping Ash strive to be better than a mediocre student that won’t go anywhere. Who inspires Ash to break out of her shell and rise.
And yeah Ash starts to fall in love with Miss Murray. I mean let’s be honest who wouldn’t? We’ve all been in that situation where someone takes an interest in us, cares about us, REACHES out to us! and shows us who we can be. How can you not start to feel for them? And then learning something about them on the way? Yeah…its life.
And I know, I know, critics and haters of anything to do with LGBTQ are going to shout out at this book and say it encourages students to fall in love with their teachers and vice versa, because that’s what they do. But you know what? This book will rise above it. Because you can imagine that Ash is your best friend. Your child. Your student. Just someone that you know. And you can see her. You can watch her change and grow. And you know that she’s better for it. And in all else, let the haters hate. We’ll keep on going.
I think what I said in the beginning is what I want to close with:
Because I want to share everything about this book. I want to sit impatiently while someone else reads it so we can talk about it. And then share it with other people. I want to provide spoilers and plot while sharing the story so that people understand just what this book is sharing.
I think it’s the best compliment that I can offer any book. And to any haters that show up? Well, hopefully you’ll at least read the book and give it a try. If not? Take the hate elsewhere.
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