Book review: Read Me Like a Book, by Liz Kessler

Kessler Read MeKessler, Liz. Read Me Like A Book. Candlewick, 2016. HC. $16.95 ISBN 978-0763681319.

British teenager Ashleigh is an indifferent student, juggling several emotional issues–her parents are breaking up, she becomes seriously estranged from her long-time best friend, and she loses her virginity to a guy she doesn’t really care for and then fears she may be pregnant. Even Ashleigh’s wry wit and sardonic worldview may not be enough to pull her through.

Then a new young English teacher, Miss Murray, arrives to help Ashleigh and her classmates prepare for their pre-University “A-level” literature exam. Ashleigh feels strangely drawn to her, and she enjoys reading and studying for the first time in ages. As the other stressful facets of Ashleigh’s life collide, ebb, and flow, Miss Murray offers friendship; she seems to “get” Ashleigh when few others do.

Their relationship doesn’t immediately become central to this novel’s action, and its progression is handled slowly and effectively. Miss Murray gracefully fits into Ashleigh’s life and gradually assumes a unique importance to her, as our narrator slowly realizes that her feelings for her teacher are unlike any she’s ever experienced or even considered.

Miss Murray is a source of strength and inspiration for Ashleigh. However, even when, in moments of candor, she confirms her lesbianism and later reveals to Ashleigh that she has broken up with her partner, the teacher-student boundary is never overstepped. In her own always-professional, yet sensitive way, Miss Murray becomes a life-altering catalyst for Ashleigh, bestowing upon her the priceless gift of self-realization.

I read this engrossing novel in one day. Ashleigh’s narrative voice is funny, poignant, and strong, as she weathers her storms admirably. Author Kessler also offers us fully-formed supporting characters with their own starring moments. Ashleigh may be our primary “person of interest,” but those surrounding her are also well worth knowing.

I felt Miss Murray’s relationship with Ashleigh was especially well-portrayed; we learn very little about the teacher personally, but her understated, caring impact on our heroine is undeniable. As Ashleigh puts it at the novel’s conclusion, after she graduates, and begins seriously dating a girl: “I wonder…if I’ll ever get the chance to thank Miss Murray for showing me the door that led me here.”

This novel was originally published in England, so the text includes British slang, and the author assumes her readers have basic understanding of Great Britain’s pre-college secondary school system. However, since much can be gleaned from context, there’s no reason for concern.

This novel is highly recommended for young adult LGBT and general fiction collections. We should all thank the “Miss Murrays” in our lives–the ones fondly remembered, and the ones yet to walk through our doors.

Cathy Ritchie

Acquisitions/Selection Services

Dallas (TX) Public Library

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