Where You Are by J.H. Trumble is the last book I read in 2012, and it’s a quietly powerful read. The subject matter is out of my comfort zone, and centers on a teacher-student romance, but I did find it completely absorbing. I like finding books that push my boundaries, and this forbidden love story certainly did give me a lot to ponder. Since I think Where You Are deserves more attention I’m going to attempt to put my thoughts into words.
This is the story of high school math teacher Andrew McNelis and his student, senior Robert Westfall. Andrew is gay but keeps his sexuality a secret at school. He was previously married and has a toddler (long story) and is an active dad. Robert is openly gay and is struggling with a family crisis – his father is dying of cancer. As one of Robert’s teachers, Andrew is aware of Robert’s family situation and offers support when Robert falls behind. Andrew tries to keep his distance as attraction develops between them, as the stakes are high for them both if the relationship goes public.
Andrew and Robert narrate alternating chapters. Trumble makes their voices unique, and the alternating POV gives additional insight into the character’s mindset. They both have challenges at home and school and their relationship is an escape. Andrew has to field advances from his ex and a female coworker. Meanwhile, Robert has other boy troubles and overbearing aunts making life difficult at home. They find solace in confiding to one another.
As a parent it made me uneasy to read about a romantic teacher-student relationship, but Trumble does make you want this couple to be together. It’s a little more palatable that the age difference is slim, as Andrew is in his mid twenties, and Robert is at the age of consent. It’s not the most moral situation, of course, and I kept thinking that it wouldn’t end well, but hoped that both would come out of the situation relatively unscathed.
This is a rich, realistic contemporary story with strong characters I grew attached to. There is a lot of dramatic tension that kept me hooked. The pacing is good, and the writing is strong and infused with emotion. I got very attached to the characters and so some of the scenes made me worried and uncomfortable for them. While the subject matter is mature, it is not too graphic for older teens. I finished this book on a plane and had a little book hangover where I wasn’t quite ready to move on to the next read.
I haven’t read Trumble’s other book, Don’t Let Me Go, though I understand there is at least one character that appears in both books. I’m definitely interested in catching up with that book and reading more from J.H. Trumble.