Learning Curve
by Terry McLaughlin
(Harl. Super. #1348, $5.50, PG) ISBN 0373-71348-7
Learning Curve is an engaging story with two interesting characters but one large hurdle to get over. The hero is a schoolteacher and the heroine is his student teacher. While I enjoyed the story, I could not get over this fact that made me uncomfortable, especially when the primary conflict was their concern about being caught. If this doesn’t situation doesn’t make you uncomfortable, my guess is you will find this a good story to read.

Emily Sullivan was only 13 when her older brother came home raving about his history teacher, Joseph P. Wisniewski, nicknamed “the Wiz.” She had a crush on him just hearing about him. Now, at 29, Emily is still trying to find herself. She has been in and out of college, trying to find the calling of her life, and has finally settled on teaching. In fact, she requested a student teaching gig at Joe’s school under his tutelage.

Joe is a now 39 years old and is just sliding by. He still inspires some, but in his head, he just wants to get through life day by day. He had a stint in the Peace Corp and was raised by his aunt, a cause fanatic. After losing a woman in Guatemala (under circumstances that are not revealed until the end) Joe doesn’t have that spark he once had. Emily hopes to change that. She sees in Joe the best he can be and worms her way into his life, making him feel and evaluate and start to live again. But Joe fights her all along the way, even while he is fighting his strong attraction to her.

They acknowledge that the lust they feel must be denied and this debate takes up about half the book. Then they succumb and spend the rest of the story rationalizing why they can get away with what could damage both their careers. In the background is a smart school secretary who doesn’t miss a beat, a male student who adores Joe for his intervention in his life and a smarmy principal who is trying to get under Emily’s skirt.

There is a lot to like about Learning Curve. Joe and Emily are fun characters who have some depth. Emily is learning to gain confidence in herself and Joe starts to see how he once was and how he could be again if he lets himself feel. It is a story of optimism and dealing with burn out. Their conversation involves intellectual stimulation and sexual innuendo despite their attempts to keep that out of the picture.

They are a great couple to watch falling in love…except for the inappropriateness of it. As a reader I felt Emily’s disgust when the principal, who has it out for Joe too, came on to her. There was outrage and a sense of repugnance. Yet, in actuality, Joe is in a place of power, has the responsibility to evaluate Emily and here he is lusting after her too. The fact that Emily returns his feelings made it only slightly better in the bigger scheme of things.

If a reader can put this relationship issue aside, then I think you will find Learning Curve an enjoyable romance.

--Shirley Lyons

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