Once in a blue moon, I find myself starting a book with absolutely no prior knowledge of its storyline or the themes in it, excited by the possibilities and lack of expectations, and while it is always a gamble, the mere fact that this particular book was penned by an author who has never let me down, made me feel like it was a safe bet from the very beginning. What I didn’t know was that this story would end up being my undoing from the moment I realised what it was about.
“Addison, it’s natural to form attachments to your teachers.”
“Is it natural to picture them f*cking you?”
Let it be known that nothing spikes my interest like a tale of forbidden romance between a teacher and a student, its inherent illicitness and lack of control being something I am inexplicably drawn to in the books I read, the greatest allure perhaps lying in the fact that, while morally despicable in real life, in fiction, we are allowed to mentally participate in these scenarios, and even root for them. But, as appealing as I find the mere idea of them, I personally also see them as extremely ‘hard sells’ in most cases. I honestly never know whether they would creep me out or make me tingle in all the right places, but I should have known that Ella Frank would have kicked it up a notch and set my skin on fire. This is a story that is so well-rounded, so masterfully assembled, every component fitting perfectly into the overall storyline and giving us one of the most intense, tantalizing, emotionally charged romances to feed our wicked fantasies.
“I looked at her—she looked at me. My ending, staring right at me from the very beginning.”
Grayson McKendrick is a history teacher, in his early thirties, a man whose past remains fairly elusive for the purposes of this story, apart from the fact that he has spent a large portion of his adulthood leading a rather nomadic life, traveling the world, until his father’s frail health brings him back home. He battles with conflicting feelings of anger and helplessness, expecting the worst to happen in the immediate future, but frustrated with himself for being unable to do anything to prevent it. His fairly quiet life comes to a standstill the moment a blue-eyed siren walks into his classroom and mischievously smiles at him, challenging his every resolve, his every belief, and from that moment onwards, Grayson’s life becomes a daily struggle to resist temptation and his body’s primal reactions to someone he knows he cannot and should not have.
“Temptation had come to visit, and her steely determination would likely destroy us both.”
Addison Lancaster is a popular girl, a high school senior whose traumatic past has cut her childhood short and made her into a woman who escapes her grief and overwhelming guilt by pursuing perfection and excellence in the things she can control in her life. But her pursuit of perfection is a race she can never win, her immaculate appearance only camouflaging the broken young woman hiding inside her, one in dire need of love and acceptance, but who only ever receives criticism and blame for the mistakes she never made. The Addison that the world sees is flawless, determined, ambitious, unemotional, a very different woman to the little girl still hiding behind her defensive walls. The only signs of her inner struggle are her little obsessive compulsions such as having to always hear the tick tock of a clock or her mental counting, acts that calm her nerves and warn off her anxiety when memories or external influences unsettle her.
“With him the ticking had stopped.”
When Addison lays eyes on her new history teacher, she is immediately attracted to him and she shamelessly pursues him any chance she gets. In a very rare reverse power dynamic in the context of a forbidden romance, young Addison is the one who sets the pace of their evolving relationship, her relentless determination to seduce him and make him admit his reluctant attraction to her is the element that makes this scenario so unique and addictive. Their age difference quickly disappears before our eyes, all we can see is the temptress rather than a woman half this man’s age, and as a result, their every interaction assumes an aura of delicious illicitness.
“I’ll teach you how to come with a man inside you. Not a boy, Addison, a man.”
But while Addison is the very thing that could destroy Grayson’s entire life, he is the first person in hers who manages to ground her, calm her nerves, make her feel safe and loved. No part of this taboo love affair is glorified or presented as the ‘the right way’ – we are continuously aware of how volatile and morally questionable this scenario is from the very beginning, and ultimately, the ending fits these given characters.
“You’re going to be the death of me.”
Life is full of ironies, because with him, I’d never felt more alive.
Do not be afraid by this book’s enigmatic blurb, do not be afraid to surrender your senses to this strikingly written love story that will ignite your every nerve ending and make you feel a myriad of different emotions. It somehow taps into all the taboos that make our kinks run rampant, and still manages to move us deeply and even shatter our hearts on occasion. I read this book in one sitting, in what felt like one single breath, and I adored every moment spent with Addison and Grayson. It has everything I always dream of finding in a forbidden student/teacher romance, but it is a love story first and foremost, and as such, I cannot recommend it enough to all the hopeless romantics out there.
“It wasn’t wrong. No—it was just misunderstood.”