Sometimes, you have to read outside of your comfort zone. For me, that means reading books that hit certain taboos. In the case of Beg, Borrow, or Steal by Susie Tate that is the Teacher/Student dynamic.
Now before you hit the OH HELL NO, let me tell you. This features no minors and not the typical Teacher/Student relationship. Seriously, would I lead you wrong?
Let’s begin, shall we?
Libby Penny is no stranger to sacrifice. Pregnant at seventeen, the now 22-year-old single mom is hip-deep into medical school. Unfortunately with school, rotations, and a demanding job as an exotic dancer (emphasis on dance) she’s burning the candle at both ends. Her lovely light calls out to consultant anesthetist and the Medical Education Director, Jamie Grantham. Jamie holds himself and others to high standards, and falling asleep in class doesn’t meet those standards. And he’s sick of excuses… refusing to even hear them. It takes a strong-willed child to make him realize what an ‘arse’ he’s been and open his eyes to what he really wants.
I admit, I wasn’t sure how I’d like this story. I have a fondness for single moms in fiction. But student/teacher relationships squick me – all of my family are educators and I was one too for a time. Heck, The Language of Flowers got its start as the Anti-Trope for this and sort of spiraled out from there. In Beg, Borrow, or Steal, the author hung a lampshade on the inappropriateness and actions definitely had consequences…. which is super important especially in strong power differentials like this.
But the thing that made me love this story were the characters. I loved Libby. She was strong. Stubborn. Single-minded. Loving. Compassionate. And filled with all sorts of faults. She reminded me in some ways of Jane from Big Little Lies. And it’s a good comparison. Libby is willing to do what it takes to make sure her little girl has a good life as well as make sure she’s able to fulfill her dreams. If that means she has to work as an exotic dancer to pay the bills, then that’s what she’s going to do. There’s a bit of a Flashdance vibe, something that’s reinforced by the cover.
I also adored Libby’s daughter, Rosie. Yes, she’s a cute kid. But she’s also a kid. And as an only child surrounded by adults, she’s learned to manipulate said adults. It’s realistic and I applaud the author for that. She’s also a unique child. She keeps woodlice (Roly-poly bugs in my neck of the woods) because she can’t have pets in her apartment. That’s kind of ingenious and something a kid totally will do.
I also loved Jamie. I like it when a character who has a stick up his anal regions realizes it and tries to remove it on his own. I also liked that he didn’t magically become better overnight. He makes poor decisions. He tries to inflict his will onto the heroine. Tell her what to do. But at no time is this ever presented as a good thing ™. And he gets the riot act read to him:
“Oh dear,” Pav sing-songed, “did the big baby not get his own way with the pretty lady? Did she not accept your superior wisdom in all things and bow down to your wishes? Grow up, you daft article. She’s been looking after herself and her kid for a long time. You can’t expect her to give up her only source of income because it offends your delicate sensibilities.”
To his credit, Jamie does his best to change and become a better person. Change, real change, takes time. And that is what happened over the course of this story.
Even better, his friends called him out on his crap and they remained friends. Pav, Jamie’s best friend, was one of the best characters. He had so many good lines that I could highlight them all. Like this gem of a line:
“You know nothing about that girl’s life. When did you become suck a hard-arse? Everyone’s fighting their own unique war, man. Wait until you know hers before you judge.”
We should all follow this advice.
Seriously, the side characters were great… although I do admit to getting lost a bit with some of them. I’d love to see what the author does with Millie and Kira especially. Because we need more Kira… it is known. Apparently Millie and Pav are up next. Which is awesome. We all need more Pav. The author clearly knows what they’re writing about when it comes to the medical side. It’s an eye-opening look at the British medical system which is so completely different from the U.S. version. And the bits of color and knowledge added depth to the story. This is the kind of book you want to share with your friends. So I’m happy to give it Five Stars.
*** I received an ARC through NetGalley.
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