Book Review: Consent by Nancy Ohlin
In this sexy and intriguing novel, an intense—and passionate—bond between a high school senior and her music teacher becomes a public scandal that threatens the reputation of both.
Bea has a secret.
Actually, she has more than one. There’s her dream for the future that she can’t tell anyone—not her father and not even her best friend, Plum.
And now there’s Dane Rossi. Dane is hot, he shares Bea’s love of piano, and he believes in her.
He’s also Bea’s teacher.
When their passion for music crosses into passion for each other, Bea finds herself falling completely for Dane. She’s never felt so wanted, so understood, so known to her core. But the risk of discovery carries unexpected surprises that could shake Bea entirely. Bea must piece together what is and isn’t true about Dane, herself, and the most intense relationship she’s ever experienced in this absorbing novel from Nancy Ohlin, the author of Beauty.
Oh, boy. I will be so curious to hear feedback from actual teens on this title. As an adult reading this, I was scowling the whole time. I don’t like the word “sexy” up in that description, nor do I like the words “romance,” which I’ve seen in a few other reviews. Usually I don’t look at reviews on a book until after I’ve written mine, but I poked around a little this time and my scowling continued. You wanted their relationship to work out? You’re saying, wait, wait, it’s not that creepy–she’s nearly 18 and he’s only ten years older? AND HER TEACHER. And underage. And he’s TEN YEARS OLDER.
That said, Ohlin certainly doesn’t present this as really romantic or even okay. She also doesn’t paint anyone as clearly the villain. Both Bea and Mr. Rossi have justified their relationship, and the thoughts they have about it are complicated. But there wasn’t one second while reading this that I wasn’t thinking, this is statutory rape. She is underage. He’s much older. He’s her teacher. I wanted to yell at her. And at him. And at the friends that Bea eventually convinces to help lie for her and cover for them. And at Bea’s oblivious and undeveloped dad. And her loser brother, for that matter. That’s a lot of yelling, I know.
When the book opens, Bea is being interviewed by the police. Other bits of the interview are interspersed in the narrative. We see that she’s lying to the police about what actually happened. Bea is at the top of her class, despite not seeming to have any real drive or ambition, or even putting in much work. She’s looking at applying to Harvard, but really only because her best friend, Plum, wants her to apply there with her. She’s never had piano lessons but is a prodigy, playing in secret at home when her dad isn’t around, worried it will trigger him because her piano prodigy mother died while giving birth to Bea. Bea says she’s not a slacker and is not depressed, but has little motivation for anything and carries a heavy weight of guilt over her mother’s death and what happened to their family after.
When Mr. Rossi shows up to substitute for the music teacher on leave, Bea pretty much has insta-feelings for him. He’s young(ish), British, attractive, and a skilled piano player. Instantly, Plum is asking if Bea has a crush on him. Bea has sudden and incessant thoughts about Mr. Rossi, after only seeing him one day. He takes an interest in her after he hears her play piano and mentors her, aghast that she isn’t applying to any conservatories and shocked that she’s never had a lesson. They meet up outside of school, first at a cafe and then eventually at his house. He wants her to play for his professor friend at Juilliard and takes her to NYC for the weekend. Yes, they go on a trip together. Yes, things happen on that trip. Yes, I yelled at Bea. The whole time all of this is happening, Bea and Plum talk about him as though he’s a boy their age, as though this is fine. They of course mention the risk and everything, but mostly think it’s okay because Bea’s nearly 18, he’s only a sub, and they’re obviously in love. This is special. It’s not creepy. It’s not predatory. It’s not statutory rape. She’s consenting. Isn’t she?
Mixed into the story are references to Nabokov’s Lolita; composer Robert Schumann and his relationship with this piano teacher’s daughter, Clara; the forbidden love in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera; and other stories of age difference, like both Plum and Bea’s parents, giving readers more to think about regarding age differences and consent.
When things fall apart, as we know they will have to, and their relationship gets discovered, things go from bad to worse. People get pulled in to lie for them. Bea and Mr. Rossi make a REALLY BAD choice at school. Bea’s dad, a lawyer, is concerned and gets involved, but it’s debatable if he really understands what’s been going on as Bea continues to lie to him. Even when Bea has her eyes open to the potential pattern going on with Mr. Rossi, she still thinks they will end up together, still continues to lie to authorities to protect him. The ending was rather abrupt. I was reading this on a tablet and assumed I still had quite a bit to go. I wanted to see more of Bea dealing with the aftermath of their relationship being exposed and the fallout. An epilogue shows us how she’s moved on, but I wanted to see her get there.
This is a book that will make you uncomfortable. It might make you furious. It will definitely make you sad. When we talk about consent, as we so often have in our Sexual Violence in Young Adult Lit project, it’s important that that conversation includes the legalities of age of consent and examines what statutory rape looks like. Some readers may read this story as a doomed affair. They might indeed find it “sexy” or “romantic.” But others, especially adults, will see a vulnerable and naive girl being preyed upon by a man far older than she is–a teacher–and deluding herself into thinking there is anything okay about what’s going on. A powerful, complicated look at consent that offers plenty of fodder for great discussions.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Publication date: 11/10/2015
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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