Sunday, 5 April 2015

Review + Author Interview: Me & Mr J by Rachel McIntyre (Young Adult, 10E/10E, short 'n' sweet review)

 January 2015, Electric Monkey, 320 pages, Paperback, Review copy

Content: bullying, teen romance with an adult male, 

Summary from Amazon UK (I don't benefit by mentioning them)
Sixteen-year-old Lara finds her soulmate. There’s just one problem – he’s her teacher. 
Lara’s life is far from perfect, but being an upbeat kind of person she saves her venting for her diary. It’s the only place she can let out her true feelings about the family dramas and hideous bullying she has to face every day.

And then a shining light comes out of the darkness – the new young and MALE teacher, Mr Jagger. The one person who takes Lara seriously and notices her potential. The one person who is kind to her. The one person who she falls madly and hopelessly in love with. The one person who cannot love her back … can he?
Nayu's thoughts
This is an extraordinarily insightful read about a mid-teen crushing on her teacher. Lara has an awful lot to cope with, including family break up, financial difficulties, physical/verbal/emotional abuse from her peers. Any of those on their own is tough, but having them altogether makes Lara more vulnerable, which is why she fell into the trap of Mr J. Every instance where she developed feelings for him had me shuddering. The concept of a pupil and a teacher being together is wrong on so many levels. I wanted her to ignore him, to fous on something else. But then Lara's story wouldn't be the same. 
It sounds grim but there is hope, especially when Lara can't see it. Her voice is funny and made me laugh inspite of the dire circumstances. I was thrilled by the ending, which I've heard a lot aren't keen on, but the alternate is too horrendous to consider. I was fortunate to be able to read this in one sitting - yes I'd planned it that way - as it's a gripping tale which I know I'll reread. 
Rachel can be found on Facebook Rachel McIntyre Author and on Twitter as @rachinthefax

Author Interview with Rachel McIntyre
Nayu here! It's with great pleasure I present an interview with Rachel, which gives us a bit more insight into her awesome book. Thank you Rachel! 
 What inspired you to write the book?
I had the initial idea one day when I was teaching. A group of students were discussing a girl from another school who had (allegedly) had a relationship with her PE teacher. I was surprised by the way the students saw this as romantic when, to me, it was so obviously very wrong. It got me thinking about why young people get themselves into these situations even though they know they're illegal as well as immoral. Soon after, there was a deluge of these stories in the news headlines and I realised it was an incredibly topical subject and one that perhaps deserved a discussion.

Why did you choose to write it as a diary?
I wanted to really get under the skin of the character and also to put the reader right there with Lara as the events unfold to make her story as realistic as possible. Also, I thought it underlined how alone she is in the world as she can't confide in her parents as they've got worries of their own and her closest friend, her cousin has moved away. Her diary is a way of recording her emotions and also dealing with them. Writing a diary is a very cathartic experience and it helps Lara to understand how she feels.

It was also very important for me to write through the eyes of the girl involved. when these cases happen in the real world, we read the judge's view and the media's view, but as the girls are made anonymous, their voices tend not be heard. I wanted to look at how and why a situation like this might develop.

Have you been surprised by the reaction to the book?
Yes! It's a difficult subject, so I was prepared for the fact some people would find it uncomfortable but the biggest surprise was the readers who were expecting a kind of explicit "forbidden love" story. It's a Young Adult novel with a target audience of 12-16 year olds, it has to be appropriate for the readership!

How have people responded to the ending?
Again, that's been really interesting. some readers have said the ending ties things up really well and shows how Lara has been able to emerge a stronger and wiser person. However, other readers really seem to want a more romantic ending and this has been particularly obvious in Germany (where the book came out in February). That was really interesting for me because it's quite tricky to walk the line between satisfying our desire for a happy ending and providing the reader with a "moral" ending. 

Why did you include so much humour?
I deliberately made Lara quite a cynical and sarcastic heroine with a good sense of humour. I think it makes her an even more likeable character as she always tries to stay optimistic. Also, writing about such difficult topics could make for an unbearably gloomy book. Lara's one liners and funny observations are in there to ensure the reader doesn't feel completely miserable! Plus, life is a mix of comedy and tragedy and weaving both in to the novel makes Lara as true to life as possible.

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