Desert Isle Keeper
One of the comforts of Romancelandia is that there is rarely anything new under the sun. Most books are exactly what they say on the tin and you know what you’re getting when you wade into the waters of that particular book. I don’t see this as a criticism, I see it as a strength. But it does make the risk takers stand out, for good or ill. Thus, when a work comes along that feels entirely new in all the best ways, I tend to take notice. As I read Olivia Dade’s newest, Teach Me, I felt just that.
Rose Owens is a damn good teacher. She cultivates trust and imagination and hope among her history students and derives most of her identity from that role. A ‘larger’ woman – she describes herself as fat, plus-sized, and ‘of my size’ throughout the book – she has also crafted an armor around herself in the form of tailored clothing, sculpted hair, and perfectly made-up face. She is never seen without her trademark high heels, and no one breeches those walls.
No one, until Martin Krause.
Originally introduced to us as her enemy, Martin quickly becomes the best part of her day. This isn’t an enemies-to-lovers story, though, so don’t get excited if you’re here for that trope. You see, Martin was hired by the school to join the history department, and the terrible head of secondary education for their district gave some of Rose’s key classes to Martin instead.
Rose does her best to hate Martin, to see him as the enemy, but she soon realizes he’s not. He is, instead, an incredible teacher and a fantastic father to his teenage daughter, Bea. Also, he’s completely into Rose.
Martin is what RomanceTwitter calls a ‘cinnamon-roll hero’ – strong on the outside, gooey on the inside, with zero alpha tendencies, and heaps of wonderfulness. I fell for him from about page four (when he appears) and I was rooting for Rose to trust herself with him the whole time.
At this point, you may be wondering what I was talking about when I said I’d never read this story before. It sounds a lot like a few other contemporaries floating around, you may say. And to that I say, yes… but no.
Several factors contribute to this. The first is how grounded this book is in the education profession. Rose and Martin don’t just teach, they are teachers, and we get to see how that plays out on the page. We join them in their lessons, meet their students, hear why they chose the profession, see what keeps them going. I adored that.
Second, Martin and Rose are both in their forties (no ages are specified, but Rose has been teaching for twenty years, so I’m putting her in her early to mid forties and Martin is close in age). We skip the fumbling of first love in this one. They’ve both been married before and they’re not into playing games.
Finally, Rose. We are starting to get some really well-crafted fat lady representation in romance and I am HERE FOR IT. It’s clear to me that Ms. Dade knows what it’s like to be in Rose’s skin – this is self-identified ownvoices for this intersection – and I was so grateful for it. Rose’s body size was not a plot point, but it was a thing in every place it would be in real life. She would have to shop at different stores than other girls her age, she would have to be realistic about where her body could fit during a lockdown drill, and Martin would notice those things, too. I also appreciated the sensitive exploration of Rose’s childhood poverty and how that would mentally affect her into adulthood. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are things we deal with in romance all the time, but rarely so explicitly and so deftly.
Additionally, the story here is an internal one. The conflict isn’t a dramatic one that causes histrionics, but is instead the kind where the person you’ve built yourself to be isn’t compatible with the person you’ve fallen in love with, and that is gut wrenching. Rose and Martin earn their HEA, folks, and what a delight it is to join them.
I adored Teach Me from top to bottom and I’m sure it’ll be on my best of list come December. Thanks for this one, Ms. Dade.