Book Review: Consent by Nancy Ohlin

consentTeacher-student ‘romances’, specifically those set in high school, are highly problematic, for obvious reasons, and need to be dealt with using tact and sensitivity. You have to avoid romanticizing these kinds of relationships. You have to make sure it comes across that no matter how much the student pursues it or ‘consents’, the responsibility lies with the adult, as the one in a position of authority. Consent given by somebody underage still does not qualify as consent in the eyes of the law. Quite apart from the age gaps and the legal age limits, there are also the unequal power dynamics to consider, not to mention the sheer unprofessional conduct of it all.

Suffice to say though, this novel is a textbook example of how not to portray a teacher-student relationship.

It’s one thing to have an insufferable MC, Beatrice, who obsesses over how hot and understanding her teacher is; who constantly lies to her father and best friend; who doesn’t see that what she’s doing is wrong, and is incredibly immature in her rationalisations, with not the barest thought given to any potential consequences. That’s the whole reason teenagers are, legally, not allowed to make certain life decisions, because (for most), their reasoning and risk assessment capabilities are not quite fully developed.

Last night in the music history room was a huge mistake, but it’s not like Dane and I did anything immoral. I wanted him, and he wanted me. He’s not some sleazy child molester. 

The teacher, Dane Rossi, is a highly problematic character, even if he is viewed through rose-tinted glasses by Bea. He is a predator, full stop, no matter how sensitive and loving he may appear. He pursues Bea – inviting her over to his house to practice her piano-playing, sending her texts and emails, sleeping with her, etc – and it’s shown that this is not the first time he’s done this.

And yes, I see where the author was going with this, portraying how for many students who end up in this situation, they don’t see anything wrong with what they’re doing, and that predators don’t always look like stereotypical sleazy old men hitting on young innocent girls.

He said it was his fault, though, because he was the adult and he should have known better, had more self-control. I reminded him that I would be an adult, too, next month. 

But my problem comes in with the fact that there are no consequences for Dane or Bea. They take actions that rope everybody else into their web of lies and deceit, and Dane moves away while Bea stays on, both continuing as normal, with a hint that he may re-enter Bea’s life someday as a love interest. And this? This is not okay.

He’s twenty-seven – so, ten years older than me. Nine, if you consider the fact that I’ll be eighteen in December. We’re not that far apart, really. 

The rationalization in the above quote is horrifying. And it’s not just about the age thing, but as I mentioned in the first paragraph, the power dynamics of the situation. Teachers are in a position of power over their students. Despite Bea’s actions, however silly or selfish or self-centered you may find her, she is not the one at fault. It’s also not shown, however, that Bea ever grasps the subtleties of the situation – exactly why it was wrong.

I think what I’m trying to get to is the fact that if I didn’t have the knowledge that I do now – the nuances of consent, power dynamics, sexual predators, etc – knowledge that I definitely did not have a full grasp of when I was a teen – then I would have interpreted this book as a sexy romance where you can get away with a relationship with your teacher because its true love and no-one gets hurt. Which is obviously a message which we should NOT be sending.

Finally, there were a number of other reasons the book didn’t work for me.

He has a nice voice, deep and British. There are a couple of appreciative catcalls from across the room. Wendy Stiles and Mallory Meecham, the senior sluts – no surprise there.

  • Slutshaming. Just delightful, and hypocritical, in this instance, considering our MC bones the teacher. Because its 2015, and we still haven’t managed to understand that women should not be shamed for having sexual agency.
  • British accent? Let’s try be to be a little more specific. English, Welsh, and Scottish all sound very different from each other. Also, ‘nice’ as an adjective? Really?
  • Extremely colloquial, “teenagerish” prose, which is a personal dislike of mine, and really grated on my nerves.
  • The reason for Bea’s family strife is flimsy and really not fleshed out at all – indeed, Bea’s trajectory of suddenly deciding what she wants to do with her life comes across as incredibly rushed.

Overall, a book that failed to clarify its message and as a result, left me feeling like I needed a shower to scrub off the sleaze and stupidity.

Rating: 3/10

 

ARC received from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. Quotes taken from uncorrected proof and may differ from final publication. 

 

Hannah is a twenty-something born and bred Capetonian who adores reading and reviewing books, and encouraging critical discussion on all things pop culture. Currently a politics graduate student, she spent two years working in digital marketing before deciding she missed the student life. Loves QI, travel, dark chocolate, fantasy & YA books, pilates and sarcasm.