Book Review: For Your Own Good by Samantha Downing

For Your Own Good by USA Today bestselling author Samantha Downing is a sneaky thriller set at a prestigious private school, complete with interfering parents, overeager students, and one teacher who just wants to teach them all a lesson.

Samantha Downing turns her keen eye for murder and mayhem—ribboned through with the social commentary that makes her characters feel more like actual people than fictional creations—to the high-pressure world of elite high school academia. The parents here are toxic, the children cope as best they can, and the teachers—well, every teacher is different. But the teachers at the prestigious Belmont Academy are all dedicated to their students, even if some of them show it in unusual ways.

Teddy Crutcher is finally Teacher of the Year, an award he’s long coveted. His professional success helps obscure the slow collapse of his personal life, and so he turns his mind to not only improving his current students, including the (to him) insufferable Zach Ward, but also to helping former students such as Fallon Knight. Fallon hadn’t even realized how invested Teddy was in her betterment until she figured out that the college recommendation letter she asked him to write all but torpedoed her chances of getting into any of the universities she wanted. Enraged but helpless to retaliate, she sends him the occasional angry email, which he receives with pleasure in his job well done.

Teddy smiles, as he always does when Fallon writes. She still doesn’t get it.

 

He’s not the enemy. Never was. His goal for her, for all his students, is to transform them from selfish brats into something better.

 

Fallon may not get it now, but he hasn’t lost hope. Not yet. Not for any of his students. He hasn’t given up on her just like he hasn’t given up on Zach. One day, they just might get it.

 

And if they do, it will be because of him.

Now that he’s Teacher of the Year, Teddy thinks he finally has a shot at influencing more of what happens at his beloved school. Despite his academic credentials, though, he knows that he’ll never be accepted in quite the same way as the staff who were once students there too. This includes teachers like Sonia Benjamin, the neurotic if popular faculty advisor to the school paper. Sonia is the temperamental opposite of Teddy, but she’s still a good educator, perceptive and empathetic almost to a fault.

That’s the part no one had told her about being a teacher. The guilt. So much guilt.

 

Sonia feels guilty about what she’s done, what she hasn’t done, who she has helped, and who she hasn’t. She feels guilty about the hours she works and the hours she doesn’t. She feels guilty when her students don’t achieve what they want to achieve or get into the college of their choice.

 

That kind of guilt is enough to drive anyone to drink. Not Sonia—she doesn’t touch alcohol. But she knows a lot of teachers who overindulge. Parents, too.

 

And then there are parents who really should have a drink. Courtney’s mother, for instance. If anyone needs to relax, it’s Ingrid Ross.

 

Not that it’s any of her business, except as it relates to Courtney. It’s amazing the girl’s head hasn’t exploded from all the pressure.

If there’s one thing Sonia and Teddy do agree on, it’s the fact that Ingrid, head of the parent-teacher association, needs to go easier on high-achieving Courtney. Still, neither of them expects Ingrid to fall down dead at Sonia’s Ten Year Anniversary Appreciation party. Worse, Courtney is then arrested for Ingrid’s murder.

Teddy knows this was technically all his fault, even if Ingrid’s death was totally accidental. He just wanted to make Belmont a better place, and now a parent is dead and an innocent student in jail. Never one to shirk responsibility, he takes it upon himself to fix things. But as Teddy the English teacher knows, the best-laid plans of mice and men do often go awry. The question is: exactly how much collateral damage is acceptable when teaching people a lesson?

This twisty, darkly humorous tale of high-stakes academia barrels along through multiple viewpoints, from teachers like Teddy and Sonia to students and former students like Zach and Fallon. Our characters find themselves almost unwittingly chasing after each other and the truth as a string of murders racks a school that’s coming to be known as #HomicideHigh. There are breakthroughs and reversals galore as the characters investigate and scheme, sometimes with the same goal in mind but too often at cross-purposes. Not everyone will make it to the end of this book alive, but those who do will hardly emerge unscathed, as lessons are imparted if not necessarily learned.

Readers won’t be able to close this satirical murder mystery—a clever inversion of the traditional play fair puzzle—without coming to the conclusion that teaching truly is, if not one of the noblest, at the very least one of the most impactful professions.

Check out Doreen Sheridan’s review of Samantha Downing’s He Started It! 

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