My rating: 4/5 stars I love a book about teacher problems and classroom lives (for obvious reasons), but The Teacher’s Secret by Suzanne Leal is every teacher’s worst nightmare come to life. I was completely absorbed in this story from start to finish.
Terry Pritchard is a passionate Year 6 educator at Brindle Public school. As the new school year begins, the staff is faced with a new acting principal, Laurie Matthews. She doesn’t care what has been working for them in the past and has a particular affinity for rules and regulations. Needless to say, Terry and his colleagues are immediately put off by her as she sets about changing the environment and working culture they have cultivated in their years at the school.
More unsettling than that, though, is that Ms. Matthews is fresh off a position in the Child Protection division with their school district and she’s what some might call paranoid. She dislikes Terry’s close relationship with his students and suspects that something untowards may be afoot. She makes it her personal mission to see that Terry Pritchard is never allowed to work with children again.
The book is told from multiple perspectives and has a complex organizational scheme. There is one main storyline that takes up the majority of the first half of the novel, then spiders off into separate subplots that eventually do find their way back to the central theme of the book for the most part. There are a lot of narrators and various storylines, so many in fact that at times it was tough to keep it all straight. Some of them take quite a long time to weave into the main storyline. As I worked my way through the book, however, I found that the characters and stories were so well-written and alive that it almost didn’t matter. I thoroughly enjoyed each of their tales.
What I appreciated most about this book was the shades of grey with which the story is told. No character is inherently good or bad. The issues make you think rather than the author forcing their take on the reader. Secrets are alluded to and not made clear until well into the book. This makes for a much richer reading experience. The narrative flows nicely throughout and each of the characters had a unique voice, so crucial to a novel with a structure such as this.
This is a very character-driven novel. Terry Pritchard, of course, is the main character at the crux of the novel. He is driven and caring, but not without some skeletons in his closet. I have mixed feelings about him because although I can see why he is so popular and well-liked, while I love the way he throws his whole heart into teaching, some of his internal narration was kind of…well, creepy. Laurie Matthews may be paranoid and irritating, but her intentions seem to be good. She is certainly a powerful presence who commands excellence and obedience from those around her. The somewhat odd, completely lovable, desperately lonely Joan had me laughing and rooting for her the whole way through. Brave Nina, whose marriage is going spectacularly awry, had me hanging on every word. Rebecca, who lies in fear of her family being sent back to their home country, but resisting the true reasons why. Sweet Sid who may find happiness after all…I loved them all. The students at the school, while not given their own voice, still make a memorable impression on the reader. They are very distinct, well-drawn, and realistic characters. They give the adult characters heart and purpose throughout the story and become the force that binds them all together.
In all, this was a realistic (and truly terrifying) portrayal of good intentions gone fantastically wrong. It is a story of secrets and the consequences of those secrets. In short, your past will come back to haunt you. I would highly recommend this emotional, fast-paced story. I haven’t seen such an effective combination of heart and suspense in quite a long time.
* I would like to thank the Legend Press and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book to read and review. So appreciated!