As an apprentice at the prestigious Vandenberg School for Boys, Imogene Abney assists in the education of the most powerful men of the next generation. Her students are future doctors, lawyers, and politicians – the wealthiest and brightest minds in upstate New York. The school has many rules for its apprentices, but the one of utmost importance has to do with appropriate contact.
In an all-boys boarding school, it’s likely that a student would develop a crush on, and maybe even pursue, an elusive apprentice in her early twenties. The key is not to give in. Imogene is determined to follow the rules, to excel in her role, and then she meets Adam Kipling.
Kip is everything that Imogene wants to be. He’s confident, attractive, well-spoken, and worldly. He knows who he is and what he wants, and what he wants is her. Imogene can’t believe that out of all the apprentices, Kip would want to be with her, and it’s not long before the two embark on an illicit and entirely indecent affair.
SOME MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD~
I requested Indecent from Netgalley because, first, I’m trying to read more debut authors, and second, because it sounded like an interesting twist on the taboo romance genre. Having finished Indecent, I’m not entirely sure that it was supposed to be a romance. Maybe it was supposed to be a cautionary tale? And that’s the problem I had with this book – I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be getting out of it.
One thing that really struck me about this book was the imbalance of power. You might expect that in this kind of situation, the teacher would control the relationship. That’s not the case. Although Imogene is an adult in a position of (semi) power and Kip is a student (though not her student), Imogene is so insecure and socially stunted that Kip is the one who holds all the cards. Kip is the one that controls the relationship. Imogene is happy to be at Kip’s beck and call, sneaking into his room and running out at all hours of the night to be with him.
While their relationship is certainly morally wrong, and certainly against the conduct code that Imogene agreed to, it isn’t illegal. Kip is seventeen years old, the age of consent in New York state, and not only does he consent to the relationship, but he initiates it and pursues Imogene until she gives in. Imogene, knowing that a relationship with a student is entirely inappropriate yet finding herself impossibly attracted to one, weakly protests until Kip wears her down.
I had a really hard time reading this book. I think it was partially the writing style and partially Imogene’s complete disregard for doing the right thing. Aside from some vague unease when she and Kip begin talking, Imogene really doesn’t have a problem with their relationship. She is so caught up in finally feeling desired that she engages in risky behavior after risky behavior. Kip is Imogene’s drug, and she’s willing to ruin her friendships, lose her job, and destroy her life for one last fix. At times, it seems like she wants to get caught because she’s so proud of herself for finally “dating” a popular boy.
I’m okay with being uncomfortable with this book. I think it’s supposed to make you uncomfortable. It’s supposed to make you think about the moral and ethical and legal ramifications of the relationship. I wish there’d been more of a discussion of what had actually happened at the end of the book. As it stands, the end of the book offers little resolution.
Similarly, a number of plot threads are left hanging. I don’t want to spoil the entire novel, but I was left wondering why none of the students reported Imogene’s odd behavior – and why none of the teachers noticed that she was acting inappropriately. I wondered what became of the other apprentices and if they were surprised to learn about Imogene or if they saw it coming. I wondered about Imogene’s faculty advisor and the coach she worked so closely with, and whether they rethought her interactions with the students.
Indecent is a strong debut from Corinne Sullivan. As is fitting for the subject matter, the book is a little unsettling. I just wish there’d been a bit more exploration of the eventual fallout.
Final rating: ★★★☆☆
I received a free ARC of Indecent from the publisher (via Netgalley) in exchange for my honest review.