The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta

abstinence-teacherStonewood Heights in the perfect place to raise kids. It’s got the proverbial good schools, solid values, and a healthy real estate market. It’s the kind of all-American suburb where parents are involved in their children’s lives, where no opportunity for enrichment goes unexplored.

Ruth Ramsey is the human sexuality teacher at the local high school. She believes that “pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge in power.” Ruth’s daughter’s soccer coach is Tim Mason, a former stoner and rocker whose response to hitting rock bottom was to reach out and be saved. Tim belongs to the Tabernacle, an evangelical Christina church that doesn’t approve of Ruth’s style of teacher and makes her the focus of a very public crusade. And Ruth, in turn, doesn’t applaud the Tabernacle’s mission to take its message outside its doors. Adversaries in a small-town culture war, Ruth and Tim instinctively mistrust each other. But when a controversy on the soccer field pushes the two of them to actually talk, they are forced to look beyond their first impressions.

Let me preface this review by saying that The Abstinence Teacher actually has very little to do with the jacket blurb, until the very last sentence. The “abstinence teacher” isn’t even the main character, rather JoAnn, who’s brought in to teach abstinence after Ruth says that some people actually enjoy oral sex. The rest of the blurb is the back story to the story, details that are intertwined into the story but aren’t the overall conflict.

The overall conflict is the issue of abstinence-only sex-education {an oxymoron, if you ask me}, specifically “a small group of fanatics telling everybody else what they can and can’t do, what they should and shouldn’t read or talk about.” (pg. 62)

Personally, I believe that Perrotta did a good job showing (lack of ) sex-education in high schools around the country. I’ve sat in one of these talks every year since sixth grade, and every year I’m told condoms aren’t effective. He explains the issue without taking a stand. Instead, he allows his characters to offer evidence and testimony as to why their side of the issue is the right one, although Tim, the born-again Christian, struggles to sing the same tune as the Tabernacle’s flock.

I loved both Ruth and Tim, who I originally thought I would hate when I picked up the novel. Both characters are flawed, both have their own warped views of  the other’s beliefs. The story alternates from the viewpoint of Ruth and Tim,  and Perrota does an excellent job of reeling the reader in, slowly disclosing background information and details about the main characters, yet all the while allowing the story to be told.

Yet, the ending was so abrupt, so unexpected that I started searching my library-loaned copy to see if someone had ripped out the ending. The ending didn’t mesh with the style and pace of the novel, didn’t give any semblance of an actual ending.

Overall, the story is engrossing and well-executed. Perrotta’s characters are engaging and very real, but the ending leaves a bad taste in my mouth and drops what could have been a best of the year book down a notch.

Others’ Thoughts:

Book Mentioned:

  • Perrotta, Tom. The Abstinence Teacher. New York: Random House, 2007. Print. 368 pgs. ISBN: 9780307356369. Source: Library.
Book Cover © Random House. Retrieved: January 10, 2009.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Library Loot: July 30 to August 5 | Ardent Reader

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