This is a strange and lovely and bittersweet book. Edna is seventeen, her mother is in hospital with cancer, and she finds herself becoming involved with her married art teacher. She’s a pretty troubled girl, she can’t bring herself to visit her mother in hospital, and there’s an unknown mystery about her brother who died as a child.
The central student-teacher relationship is well written. It starts with Edna’s clear crush on Mr Howland, the school’s heartthrob ceramics teacher.
His attraction for her grows more gradually, and apparently against his wiser judgment, but he seems to fall in love with her for her character as much as her looks.
Even as they get together she starts noticing things about him that make him more human, on less of a pedestal. Edna’s still enthralled by him, but you can see the flaws setting in from the start. She’s aware of the challenge of their age gap: 17 vs 32.
She’s aware that his “I love you” sound more real than hers, probably because hers are still more of an adolescent crush. “Are you sure you love me?” he asks her but she’s flippant in her response. Later he complains that “this is all a big joke to you”.
Ultimately their relationship is about their mutual need to escape from reality. They are not really compatible. He takes her to art galleries and it comes across as a parent dragging a reluctant child around a museum, when the child would much rather go to a funfair. “He seems genuinely interested in art, and he seems genuinely surprised that I am not.”
As Edna’s life starts to get back on track she simply doesn’t need Mr Howland any more. She outgrows him. She starts finding him old and irritating. He failed to recognise that her love for him was that of an immature, troubled schoolgirl in need of adult affection, despite endless signs.
Highly recommended for fans of teacher student relationships. There’s much to enjoy here, and a happy ending in so far as Edna’s life is back on track by the end of it.