For teachers, for those who like Center’s writing style, for a blend of teaching pedagogy and medical/personal self-discovery, for a book where you know exactly what to expect, for something uplifting and quotable if you’re having a bad day
Samantha Casey loves everything about her job as an elementary school librarian on the sunny, historic island of Galveston, Texas—the goofy kids, the stately Victorian building, the butterfly garden. But when the school suddenly loses its beloved principal, it turns out his replacement will be none other than Duncan Carpenter—a former, unrequited crush of Sam’s from many years before. When Duncan shows up as her new boss, though, he’s nothing like the sweet teacher she once swooned over. He’s become stiff, and humorless, and obsessed with school safety. Now, with Duncan determined to destroy everything Sam loves about her school in the name of security—and turn it into nothing short of a prison—Sam has to stand up for everyone she cares about before the school that’s become her home is gone for good.
The writing was very familiar to Center’s other works. The MC was very self-aware, and did a good job at calling herself out in cliche situations with clear-eyed bemusement. Overall, I was entertained but not enthralled. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but I’ll try.
There were points that felt unnecessarily drawn out; like descriptions that didn’t add to the story, or musings that we had already heard several times before (“I can’t believe how different Duncan is”). I rarely skim in stories, but I was here every now and then.
My main issue was with the characters. The MC didn’t seem to put much empathy or thought into what could have made Duncan change so drastically, and was unable to recognize that something that severe is usually based in trauma. Perhaps that’s due to her inward focus of her own feelings. Duncan provided some issues for me as well, as the descriptions of what Old Duncan was like was pretyt much cringeworthy for me. He sounded… exhausting. And over the top. Having taught, I definitely have known people and specifically teachers like him. They can be fantastic at their jobs, but reading about one was just tiring and overwhelming. Personal issue, maybe? Either way, I didn’t particularly like him in his old or new form.
The story was a bit of a slow build. I expected Duncan to be taking over relatively quickly, as the key conflict in the story was him taking over the school and sending it in a different direction. In reality, I feel like that was a very small portion of the story in terms of length. Once he showed up, the school year passed in a few chapters. There was a lot of setup to everything that telegraphed quite clearly what could be expected for character and story growth.
It was entertaining and had some really great quotable lines, but it probably won’t be one that sticks with me for very long.
Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.