Olivia Dade’s Teach Me is set in the decidedly unglamorous world of the public school system, and its clear-eyed acceptance of the stresses and injustices of that environment only makes its central romance all the more wondrous. No crazy tropes, no gimmicks, no twists—just two people falling deservedly in love.
And it certainly helps that reserved history teacher Rose Owens and her new coworker, kindhearted single dad Martin Krause, are so compelling that either could be the subject of an entire novel. As a plus-size woman who grew up extremely poor, Rose is painfully clear on all the ways the world (and specifically the patriarchy) can try to tear her down. And so she has constructed an impeccable, impermeable image—perfectly tailored, always jet black clothing; a full face of expertly applied makeup; and a polite but chilly demeanor. Rose doesn’t make friends with her colleagues and her closest friends are her former in-laws. But to her students, she is all warmth and acceptance, and always willing to help an overwhelmed or troubled teenager.
Martin is witness to both sides of Rose during their awkward first meeting, where Dade cleverly uses Martin’s reactions to his new coworker to establish his own character. A new addition to the social studies department, Martin has been given Rose’s favorite world history classes in a typically boneheaded and sexist move by Dale, an administrator who has it out for Rose. Martin intuits what has happened and the injustice of it during his first interactions with his new colleague, and is mature enough to realize that Rose’s reserve isn’t directed towards him. If anything, it is actually a sign that she’s treating him like she would any other colleague, and he is rightfully impressed and grateful for this. Martin’s emotional intelligence and unquestioning respect for personal boundaries allow Rose to feel safe enough to open up to him as they work together over the course of the school year.
As their romance unfolds, Dade ensures that Rose’s ice queen façade is just as appealing as her instinctual kindness. She doesn’t have to fully dismantle her strength to be loved. In fact, Martin finds her withering glares to deserving foes to be unbearably sexy. His pining for Rose is aching and palpable on the page, and Dade makes Rose’s inner turmoil just as compelling. Torn between her surprisingly strong desire for Martin and a longstanding fear of intimacy, Rose’s journey to her HEA is not linear and nor should it be. Teach Me is firmly grounded in reality, and acknowledges the foibles and traumas and flaws of both halves of its central couple. This is where its magic springs from—in its insistence that asking for and giving love is open to them regardless, and that love can bloom even under the deeply unflattering fluorescent lights of a public high school.