The Taming (2012), by Eric Walters and Teresa Toten

Walters-Toten-TamingKatie is invisible. She likes it that way. It’s safer than standing out, given her borderline-alcoholic mother with a history of bad choices in male companions. The one before last, for example, had been a real problem… But then Katie is cast as Katherina in her highschool production of The Taming of the Shrew. On the stage, she can be as strong as she knows she is inside, and it feels right. And she is good. Everyone tells her so, including the new boy, Evan…

Evan has come down in the world, from a life of private schools to a public highschool where he has little respect for his peers and none for his teachers or the administration. His privileged life continues: the clothes, the Audi, the attitudes that carry him through life and impress all the girls, including Katie… but also the psycho-emotional price he pays for having, as his father puts it, a “higher market value” (113).

Eric Walters and Theresa Toten take turns writing sections of the novel from the perspective of these two teens as they come together both on and off stage.  Seeing their carefully crafted relationship from both sides will be illuminating for young readers, who often wonder how the other gender functions.  But while Katie is an excellent example of a strong but seriously troubled teen struggling to come to terms with past abuse and present insecurity, Evan is initially—no, for most of the novel—little more than a Letch-in-Prince-Charming’s-clothing.  His actions seem to be all that Katie thinks they are, but his inner monologue foreshadows the pain he will cause her before the novel is over.  The way this dynamic is structured presents a strong warning to all young girls regarding many boys’ intent: the warnings our mothers and fathers give us, but we never believe.  Katie’s friends Travis and Lisa, too, are wary of the attention Evan showers on her, and—as similarly socially outcaste before the advent of Evan—are strongly supportive, even when their concern angers Katie.  The workings of these teens’ relationships are carefully and effectively constructed; we see these characters as real teens within their fictional setting. When Katie and Evan’s relationship reaches its climactic moments, we are left to consider seriously the two personalities, the social and familial causes of their several problems, and how they as individuals choose to respond to the traumas of childhood and adolescence.

In the end, unquestionably, Katie stands strong.  She tells Evan unequivocally: “You taught me so much, Evan. About myself, about … so much,” but she has grown beyond his reach: “You need help. Your father … Get help, Evan. […] No one will ever lay an hand on me again” (223-9).  Evan, always in control—taught control as the only acceptable modus operandi by his domineering financier father—has lost what he has fortunately come to realize is a prize worth keeping: Katie’s love.  We see Katie’s growth; we see the healing that goes on in her family, the potential for happiness that she helps to establish for herself and her mother. With Evan, there is less evidence of change. Certainly he does stand up to his father on behalf of his powerless mother, and he does finally admit to himself that he needs healing, needs Katie’s love as much as he used to mistakenly think she needed his mojo.  But in the end we are left with only the possibility of his seeking the professional help he needs, and standing up to his father once seems only too likely to create more barriers to healing. Evan is going to find only resistance, not assistance, from his family. Still, his moment of realization is strong, and we can only hope that Evan has learned as much, as effectively, from Katie as she has learned from him. What is certain is that teen readers have much to learn from both of them. The novel is so well crafted that the learning will come gradually, accompanied by powerful vicarious emotions that I think will help them prepare for real relationship dilemmas when—hopefully only if—they are encountered.