Author: Laurie b Levine
Type of book: abuse, trauma, grooming, emotional, mental, financial, humiliation, gray line, border, 1986-1990, USA, missing mother figure, teacher/student relationship, taking advantage, summer camp, borderline sexual, conversion techniques, discomfort
Year it was published: 2016
"Alex is the articulate, first-person narrator of the tale; readers experience her obsession and emotional deconstruction from the inside...[Levine's] deep understanding of 'grooming' behavior...helps her to create a character that jumps off the page." -Kirkus
Alexandra Geller is a bright, underachieving fourteen-year-old coming of age in the big hair 1980’s. Alex is from an accomplished, well-educated family. The sudden death of her mother five years ago, and her relationship with her well-meaning but emotionally unavailable father, leaves her unmoored and vulnerable as she tries to figure out who she is. Early in her freshman year, she’s befriended by Paula Hanover, a young, attractive science teacher at her high school. Paula’s irreverence and charm attracts the attention of the girls, who look up to her, and the boys, who have crushes on her. Alex is thrilled to be chosen by this woman and relishes the feeling of finally “belonging” to a mother figure. Paula’s intentions aren’t so benevolent, as she slowly and carefully draws Alex into a relationship designed to meet her own needs, not Alex’s. Desperate for maternal attention, Alex finds ways to ignore the vague sense that something is wrong. Her compelling story sheds light on a common, but rarely talked about kind of trauma which is subtle, and occurs under the radar.
Main characters include Alexandra Geller, a young Jewish teenager who has recently lost her mother and is craving to be validated and loved by a mother figure. She strikes me as bundle of energy because she constantly bounces her knee all the time and reluctant to open herself up to new people. She is also a bit of a chatterbox and wants to be liked for herself rather than being forced to be someone else. Paula Hanover is Alexandra's teacher, 29 in beginning of the story who is the "cool" teacher by riding on the motorcycle, being in a band and not really being a teacher. Throughout the story she tries to find direction in her life in different ways and she does take advantage of Alexandra's needs in different ways by humiliation, anger and even financially. Alexandra's father is also there, but he doesn't try to bond with his daughter or even care about her hobbies or interests (way too familiar to me,) and Alexandra does have strong friendships in terms of Amber, Sandra and even a boyfriend Adam as well as a counselor at a summer camp named Erica who is a psychology major. While the bond between the friends is strong, I have some trouble recalling definite characteristics of the two friends.
There is more to inappropriate relationships than just physical sexual acts
The story is in first person narrative from Alexandra's point of view. In beginning of the story, Alexandra is about thirteen or fourteen years of age and has lost her mother when she is about nine years of age. That is also when she meets Paula who happens to be her bio teacher. The story itself becomes fascinating as it goes on and years pass and Alex grows up from an awkward teenager craving mother's attention into a young woman who has love/hate relationship with the mother figure, eventually trying to mature and stand up for herself. I do hope that the author will write a sequel or so to the book that will take a look at Alexandra when she becomes an adult and will try to heal from her past. What is good about the book is the issue that's presented because it's often not talked about or even acknowledged, and I also liked the psychology aspects as well as seeing how Alexandra goes under Paula's spell. What I do feel that the author could have worked on more are the secondary characters because I have trouble recalling how Amber and Sandra differed from one another and I do feel that more explanation about psychological process is needed, at least for me.
Laurie B Levine has a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy from Syracuse University, and is Clinical Fellow in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She ahs been in private practice, helping people understand their trauma stories, for more than twenty years. She lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband, three children, and a massive dog.
In a lot of ways this is probably an uncomfortable but a very necessary novel to read. It's easy to identify and say that novels that possess sex between students and authority figures is wrong and everyone knows its wrong on so many levels. However, emotional, mental as well as grooming are much more difficult to identify and are easy to get into the game of 'he said-she said' where one side tries to convince the other that they misunderstood or are wrong. I have to say that was my experience reading the book: and that was Alexandra's experience as well with her teacher Paula. I also am being honest in saying that I am still confused on how and why it is wrong to know these things about an adult? Aside from that, I could really relate to the religious angle that was played in the book by Paula towards Alexandra, especially how Paula tried to get Alexandra to become a christian and it wasn't until I read that book did I realize that I had a very similar "friendship" with someone who strongly resembled Paula in a lot of ways (although the guy was three years older than I) I do think that some issues are pretty obvious, but its only a minor complaint and didn't deter me from enjoying the rest of the book which spans from 1986-1990.
This is for Claire McKinney Public Relations, LLC
4 out of 5(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)