Book review: The Good Teacher By Petronella McGovern

Monday, September 14, 2020 Permalink

I very much enjoyed Petronella McGovern’s Six Minutes when it was published in 2019. It’s currently up for Ned Kelly and Davitt Awards, which are well deserved. And timely… as McGovern’s second book, The Good Teacher has recently been released.

I’d misunderstood this book to be about a well-meaning teacher erroneously accused of something horrendous and having to fight to clear their name… which felt like it’d been done before. But this book is not ‘that’ and includes a range of weighty but deftly-delivered themes.

Book review: The Good Teacher By Petronella McGovernThe Good Teacher
by Petronella McGovern
Published by Allen & Unwin AU
on 01/09/2020
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: General Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 9781760875299
Pages: 432

Every evening, Allison watches her husband's new house, desperate to find some answers. Every morning, she puts on a brave face to teach kindergarten. She's a good teacher, everyone says so - this stalking is just a tiny crack in her usual self-control.

A late enrolment into her class brings little Gracie - sick and grieving. Allison takes the girl and her father, Luke, under her wing. She smothers Gracie with the love she can't give her own son. As others question her judgement and the police arrive at her door, Allison starts to wonder if she can trust herself.

When Gracie has a chance to go to America for treatment, Allison leads the school in a fundraising drive. But has she crossed a line?

I’m naturally suspicious—or cynical—so had some ideas of what the book’s twists might be. McGovern however, does a wonderful job of leading us astray and guilelessly offering us people, events and intentions that seem very real.

I really liked Allison who McGovern creates to be complex. She (or her behaviour) had me rolling my eyes at times, but I appreciated that she recognises her actions to be not-entirely-sensible. She’s a woman in denial when we meet her and I guess I’m not surprised as her world has been suddenly upended. She’s well-meaning however and we spend enough time with her that we become very invested in her wellbeing (and fate).

I found her husband’s secrecy around his new girlfriend to be a bit too weird and kept waiting for some big reveal that might explain it so didn’t find that element entirely convincing. Of course I’ve not experienced similar issues (or known anyone to) so it might be entirely feasible.

I enjoyed the characters McGovern introduces, Luke and his delightful daughter Gracie, Luke’s colleague Maz and Allison’s son, Felix. Elements of the plot unfold from their points of view so we’re privy to most of their secrets – though not all.

Obviously this book is a little fraught as we’re dealing with a child who has cancer and potentially facing death. But there’s also some important discussion around the ethics of treatment and fundraising… why some receive opportunities and support and others don’t. McGovern also touches on the issue of alternative treatments. I like that she reminds readers of the dangers of not following ‘the science’ but also notes that sometimes alternative therapies can complement (though not replace) traditional treatment.

This would definitely be a good bookclub book as there are so many dilemmas and ethical issues up for discussion. It’s another great read from McGovern and has us doubting what we think we know and believe.

The Good Teacher By Petronella McGovern was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.


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