Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel

 

Marvin Block is a kindergarten teacher in Portland, Maine. He’s well-respected in his school and field, enough so that he’s been nominated for the Teacher of the Year award. This is a boon to his principal, who’s sure they’ll get more much-needed instructional funding if Marvin wins. It’s a lot of pressure, and Marvin is anxious about not winning and letting down the team. He also struggles with ADHD, anxiety, and abandonment issues after surviving his traumatic childhood with an alcoholic single mother. She’s been sober 12 years now, since Marvin had her hospitalized just prior to leaving for college. He was afraid if she didn’t get treatment, she’d drink herself to death when he was gone. His trauma causes Marvin to keep his mom at arm’s length, afraid she’ll let him down like she did throughout his youth.

Marvin gets a transfer student at the beginning of January, Ilona Stone, who’s come from California. Ilona is adorable, kind, well-mannered, bright, and inquisitive. Her father, Olan Stone, is Marvin’s living, breathing wet dream. He’s tall, lightly muscled, recently divorced, and probably straight. Though, there are certainly vibes happening–and texts. Lots of texts. Marvin knows it’s not strictly against any rules to be friendly with parents of his students; this is kind of a small community, and teachers are neighbors with their students. That said, Marvin isn’t exactly feeling only “friendly” for Olan. And, it seems Olan maybe reciprocates?

Okay, yes, (yes!) Olan reciprocates. But is more than friends okay? Would this derail Marvin’s chances at Teacher of the Year if anyone found out? Marvin struggles, greatly, with the ethics of dating–even quietly–the father of a student. However, they both click on such a human level, making Marvin long for the opportunity to really connect. Olan, on the other hand, has never dated a man, which brings more anxiety to the situation. And, just when they get over the can they/should they conundrum, Marvin learns the reason Olan and his wife split–and the fear of returning to the problems of his youth may be enough to send him running.

Teacher of the Year is a sweet and tender odd couple romance. Marvin and Olan are very different men. Marvin knew he was gay young, Olan questioned his sexuality as an adult. He’s not sure if he’s bi or somewhere in the ace spectrum–maybe demisexual. Marvin is a white Jew through and through, Olan is black. Marvin is creative and imaginative and intuitive, Olan’s a pragmatic engineer. Marvin’s living paycheck to paycheck, and Olan is very wealthy. Their differences don’t seem to hinder the sexual chemistry, however. Olan is also amazed at how much Ilona loves Mr. Block, whose character is actually written as a really awesome teacher. It’s endearing for Olan that Marvin makes such a strong connection with his daughter, and she’s on board with daddy having a boyfriend if that boyfriend is her beloved Mr. Block.

Their big conflict stems from Olan’s history struggling with work-life balance and how he managed his stress. It’s a trigger for Marvin’s anxieties, and he needs to find the strength to deal with his past if he and Olan have any chance at a future together. I loved how compassionately the book dealt with the complexities of both men’s traumas and issues. Marvin, Olan, and Ilona are fun, sweet characters, and I found myself rooting for all of them to find happiness. There are some cool supporting characters, including Olan’s ex-wife, who turns out to be a strong, lovely woman.

I very much enjoyed the setting, the characters, the Teacher of the Year idea–and all that it embodied. There’s so much fun and awesome storytelling here, but it takes its time developing. Expect a slower pace that gives readers time to delve deep into Marvin and Olan’s lives, and really get to know their personalities and motivations. It’s a well-deserved happy ending.