In college romances, the teacher-student relationship is a common trope, used to instill a romantic boundary and infuse an otherwise legal pairing with a certain amount of taboo. In YA, however, things get a lot more complicated, and these stories can intersect with abuse, consent, legality, self-esteem, and sexual discovery. Here are five (okay, six) books that approach crossing the line in different ways.
Even When You Lie to Me, by Jessica Alcott
One of my sleeper favorites of the year so far, Alcott’s debut had me laughing out loud while sitting on the edge of my seat, waiting for things to blow up. I’d expected a really emotional, soul-searching journey, but what I got was so much better: an authentic teen voice belonging to a girl who just wants to feel her worth and get close with someone who makes her feel she stands out in the crowd. Both sexually and emotionally honest, this book is so much of what I love about YA, and does an excellent job examining The Line without ever leaping over it.
Boy Toy, by Barry Lyga
Lyga might be best known for his terrifying I Hunt Killers series, but this important contemporary is definitely not to be missed. While most teacher-student books in any category feature nearly (if not actually) legal female students and male teachers, this one features a boy reflecting on the relationship he had with his teacher when he was twelve, prompted by her being released from prison as he’s embarking on a new relationship. Until now, he’s been trying to put that past behind him, but facing it, and understanding he was a victim of abuse, may be the only way he can have a real future.
Where You Are, by J.H. Trumble
This is one I haven’t read yet, but I swear, at least once a month, my Twitter feed somehow turns into a J.H. Trumble rec-a-thon. This one features a high school senior named Robert who’s feeling lost and alone when his father is diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, and ends up turning to the only person who seems to care: his calculus teacher, Andrew McNelis.
Slammed, by Colleen Hoover
Although this is actually one of the most successful novels of the New Adult category, the content helps it fit quite snugly in with its YA counterparts. Layken is a high school senior who’s just lost her father. Will is her attractive new neighbor, a slam poet…and, unwittingly to both of them when they hit it off, her teacher. Though they force themselves apart for the year, misfortune and tragedy, as well as their physical proximity and the friendship between their brothers, keep bringing them together. Genre-wise, this is indeed a romance, but Will’s nobility keeps things as kosher as possible. (For an NA romance that full-on embraces the taboo and contains a whole lot more sexual content, I highly recommend Leah Raeder’s Unteachable.)
Drowning Instinct, by Ilsa J. Bick
For those who love books that dance hard around moral gray areas, this is definitely a discussion-worthy one. Jenna Lord’s life hasn’t been an easy one, so when she sees a potential source of care and comfort in her new teacher, falling into a relationship with him almost seems natural. Though it’s both illicit and illegal, and both of them are keeping secrets, the way they seem to save each other from lives they barely feel are worth living makes the reader take a second glance, and at least examine whether the rules remain the same in a world where the villains might not be who we thought they were.