A teacher stands trial for his sexual relationship with a precocious high school senior who resists believing she is the victim since she pursued their affair.
On the first day of TJ Hill’s trial for sexual misconduct with his 17-year-old student Morgan Monetti, Morgan shocks the courtroom by leaving her parents’ sides to sit behind the man she believes she loves. Is she the innocent victim of his abuse of power as her mother, Dinah, vociferously declares? Or is she a Lolita-ish vixen, as TJ’s supportive wife, Rain, assumes? From the courtroom opening, Riggle (The Keepsake, 2012, etc.) cuts back to the start of the school year, when Morgan finds herself in TJ’s calculus class. Mature for her age, Morgan has always been the dependable one. Dinah has concentrated her aggressive, sometimes-defensive maternal energy on Morgan’s troubled younger twin brothers, while Morgan’s father has poured his energy into his responsibilities as a vice principal at Morgan’s high school. Taken for granted by her parents, bored by most of her peers and recently dumped by her boyfriend, Morgan finds herself confiding in her sympathetic teacher. As seen through Rain’s eyes, TJ is going through his own difficulties: insecure about teaching calculus for the first time; ambivalent about Rain’s desperate attempts to get pregnant; resentful and envious of his more successful brother. One night, a slightly drunk TJ lets a distraught Morgan hide from her friends in his car. There is the inevitable kiss followed by the inevitable assignations. Meanwhile, Rain, finally pregnant, is touched when TJ tearfully promises to be a better husband. Then, TJ and Morgan are caught together. TJ is arrested. The Monettis face escalating humiliation as Morgan, Rain and TJ hold their ground. At first, the “inspired by real events novel” is refreshingly ambiguous, but then Riggle, who gives everyone but TJ a voice, stacks the moral deck.
Riggle writes about female family dynamics with a sure hand but stumbles awkwardly around TJ and the other male characters.