Reading Kate Flora’s new thriller is like witnessing a massive car wreck you can’t tear your eyes from. You watch as protagonist Alexis Jordan, a devoted high school English teacher, struggles to comprehend her situation, becomes overwhelmed by it, and is driven to greater desperation with each successive shock wave.

“Teach Her a Lesson” peels back the horror of a teacher being falsely accused by a student of initiating a long-standing sexual relationship. Evan Palmer, one of Jordan’s students at Crawford Valley High in Massachusetts, is obsessed with her. He manipulates her to tutor him in learning his lines for a role in a class reading of “Death of a Salesman,” then traps her against the wall in a small room off the library, where he presses his body against her.

“I’ve seen the way you look at me. The way you smile,” he tells here. “I know you don’t think I’m just any student. You think I’m special. … I know you’re lonely. … You aren’t getting what you deserve at home.”

When she confides in a fellow teacher, he warns her, to her surprise, to be prepared to publicly defend herself.

“You were sexually assaulted by a student who genuinely believes you invited it. That’s big deal,” the fellow teacher tells her.

“It wasn’t a—”


“Sexual assault? … It happened, Alexis. You have to take it seriously and you have to act fast.”

She reports the incident to Dr. Huston, her principal. “’Thanks for bringing this to my attention,” he says, dismissing her.”

The next day, she is told by the assistant principal that the administration is investigating the claim of a female student, Evan’s former girlfriend, that Alexis broke them up, and that Alexis and Evan are having an affair.

Later that afternoon, her day gets even worse when she learns that her husband is having an affair with one of his college students. Overwhelmed, she decides to go for a run – only to encounter Evan, who knows her routines and is stalking her.

“Mrs. Jordan, it’s been killing me. … imagining I was with you in your blue kitchen, in your yellow living room on the big white couch in your bedroom, the two of us together on that fluffy white rug.”

The narrative of Alexis’s growing crisis is sporadically interspersed with short chapters that reveal Evan’s escalating obsession. He later encounters her at school, where she strenuously rebuffs him.


Evan and his mother show up at school to see the principal. Soon after, police arrive and arrest Alexis in front of her class. They make a big display of handcuffing her, cinching her hands tightly behind her back and forcing her to perp walk down the hall with students and colleagues watching.

The community is outraged by the brazenness of her alleged behavior. She is shunned by all. A media circus encamps outside her house. Her husband is furious at her for bringing such shame on them. He moves in with his girlfriend, the irony not escaping Alexis.

Evan escalates the innuendo and terror. The police confront her with a pair of her black panties and a photo of Evan in a towel after a shower standing in her bedroom. She is immobilized by fear. One of her only remaining friends gives her a gun. Her house is set ablaze in the middle of the night while she sleeps.

The tension begins to turn, to reveal Alexis’ slow transformation from idealistic, naïve 20-something into an angry adversary. She hires a demanding defense attorney, but also begins to step beyond the restrictions the woman lays down, undertaking her own investigation. She is cautious about whom to trust – and how far. She grows more resourceful as the threat of Evan intensifies.

Flora unfolds the plot with deftness and offers penetrating insights into Alexis’ character. “Teach Her a Lesson” is a page turner. Its only shortfall is the cluttered opening that depicts the hectic human dynamics of high school. High school can be a jangle of motion and noise and arguments, but faster pacing would draw readers in more quickly.

Flora, a former assistant Maine Attorney General who describes herself as a “recovering lawyer,” has written more than 25 books, spanning the genres of crime fiction and true crime.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize It was also named a Notable Book of the Year in Literary Fiction by Shelf Unbound. Smith can be reached via his website:

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