Rating: 3/5 stars.
Robert Westfall has never had it worse – his father is terminally ill, his aunts are cruel and unsupportive, and the life he always envisioned for himself seems less and less appealing every day. Only in Calculus do his fears fade, and it’s mostly because of his kind teacher, Andrew McNelis. Mr. McNelis watches Robert flail from afar and with time offers a guiding hand. But what happens when Mr. McNelis’s role in Robert’s life changes from that of a confidante, to a friend, to something more…?
I have no qualms when it comes to reading about student-teacher relationships. In real life it is an area of ambiguity and the topic screams of sensitivity, but in fiction, I want to escape the actual consequences and explore the deeper meanings behind the issue: does the power dynamic in the relationship really play a part? What if that power dynamic did not exist? Is that possible, or is it inherent? Why does the age difference matter if both members are at the same level of emotional maturity? I do not advocate one side or the other; I just love discussing the idea in all of its facets.
But Where You Are let me down a bit. While I enjoyed the buildup of Robert and Andrew’s relationship, once they established their feelings for one another, the drive behind the conflict felt forced. Sure, they danced together and sent funny text messages to each other, but what drove them to be together besides the fact that Andrew could offer Robert a helping hand? Robert apparently makes Andrew feel more alive, but what exactly propelled them to be together to the extent that Andrew would risk his career, reputation, etc. for their illicit (due to society’s standards) relationship? Because of the sheer magnitude of the implications regarding their relationship I would have liked more, more passion, more depth, more of something that would change the mindsets of those opposed to teacher-student relationships on principle.
Several external issues and secondary characters caused harm to Andrew and Robert, but not many of them were fleshed out. Maya, Andrew’s best friend for many years, acts like a sexual molester for most of the book and has a sudden change of heart with no explanation at the novel’s end. Robert’s boyfriend Nic never displays any sincerity and neither do Robert’s aunts. While I realize that in life there are people out there who really just suck, in a book like this more nuanced characters could have created layers that would have added to the story’s sincerity and sagacity.
While I may come across as harsh in my critique of Where You Are, I would recommend it to anyone searching for a light and well-written romance. Some parts come across as cheesy (like the line, “I’d take him for a happy meal”) but it does examine a grey zone in society with honesty. J.H. Trumble is still an author to watch.