Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Abstinence Teacher - Tom Perrotta

“Pleasure is Good, Shame is Bad and Knowledge is Power.”

This is the credo of Ruth Ramsey, the high school Sex Ed teacher for the town of Stonewood Heights and one of the protagonists in Perrotta's The Abstinence Teacher.

Underestimating the recent surge in popularity and influence of a small evangelical church, Ruth makes the mistake of telling her students, “Well, from what I hear about oral sex, some people enjoy it.”

With those fateful words, Ruth (a divorced mother of two) becomes the perfect target for the fundamentalist forces of the right. A crusade is underway to cleanse the town of “…all manner of godlessness and moral decay” and Ruth stepped right in its path. She is now forced to teach the revamped Sex Ed curriculum which promotes abstinence.

On the other side of the spectrum is Tim Mason – also a divorced parent and a member of that evangelical church. Tim is “…a former stoner and rocker whose response to hitting rock bottom was to reach out and be saved.”

The fundamentalist right clashes with the liberal left. Depending upon your point of view, you may have issues with these characters’ beliefs and actions but Perrotta presents them both as sympathetic and believable. Each is struggling with children, ex-spouses, loneliness and a desire to connect.

Ultimately, the two discover they have far more in common than not. Hearts and humanity trump religious and political leanings.

Sounds like an easy read? A bit like a soap opera? Only deceptively so. The setting is your typical suburban neighbourhood but Perrotta takes the story beyond that setting as he raises questions and tackles important issues – all without preaching. He forces you to think, to see the issues from both sides. A good read.

My point of view? I wonder how supposed experts can preach abstinence as a fool-proof method of birth control. Back-up is a must. A naïve belief that your child need only be taught that abstinence is the best and only path to take is no match for the message our kids receive from the media, raging hormones and peer pressure.


I do not have pneumonia or pleurisy. I have bronchitis. Thanks to our speedy health care system, I find this out 5 days after the chest x-ray was done. And the requisition form for the x-ray had STAT written on it as to results.
I’m not sure why I find this to be good news. I still feel crummy. Maybe it’s the heavy–duty drugs? And don’t you cough with bronchitis? I’m not.
I am so looking forward to feeling “normal” again. (Or what passes for normal in my world.)


Mrs. G. said...

I read this a couple of weeks ago, and I enjoyed it. I thought the ending wrapped up a little neatly with the romance and all, but what are you gonna do? I appreciate how Tom P. shines the light on some of the hypocrisy of religion and some of the inconsistency of the secular. Great review. Thank you.

I just finished Away, and it is so good that you should go out and pay full price for the hardback. The section on Gumdrop alone was worth the price of admission. It's really that good. It has a Cold Mountain feel to it.

Sherry said...

I'm "glad" it's "only" bronchitis...did they give you something to use, an expectorant?? I'd be wanting to lose that hair ball!!! And recovery from something like bronchitis takes a long time too...don't kid yourself!!

Book sounds intriguing...as for abstinence...well...I hope there is more preaching in the schools today besides that...I know I've covered it at home but this reminds me...it's time for a recap!!!

Anonymous said...

I had enough of the fundamentalist drivel when I lived in NC...teaching abstinence is all very noble but it is just not realistic, those are the kids that will end up getting pregnant in the back seat of their boyfriends' cars. *getting on my soapbox* would it not be better to teach taking responsibility and having back-up precautions?

Oh golly don't get me started.

Maybe I need to read the book.

Take care of yourself, bronchitis can be nasty.

oreneta said...

OK, Bronchitis really kind of sucks, but I've been there and done that...I didn't cough either, though my back hurt something fierce for quite a while, it was of course actually my lungs, though I didn't associate it with that...gotta love a three day STAT. Sorry you still feel like crap, you should start to recover soon, no? Sounds like a bit of a tooth grinder of a book....not so sure about this one.

Beth said...

Agreed - bit of a neat and tidy ending and not much of a surprise, but still, a good read.
"Away" is on my Christmas Wish List - might end of being one of those, "To: Beth, With Love: Beth"!

Geez, there's hairball down there? Yuck!
I've long since finished with recaps - my job is done on that particular subject...

I love hearing you on your soapbox! Totally agree with you.

"A tooth grinder of a book?" That made me laugh.

patricia said...

Yup, bronchitis sounds even better! Though once again, of course, it sucks. But you will get better.

That does sound like an interesting book...I've never read a story quite like that. And let's face it – teaching abstinence to teenagers is like trying to herd cats.

Dorky Dad said...

HOPE YOU FEEL BETTER SOON! Glad it's not pneumonia. Ugh. Still, bronchitis blows.

Beth said...

Of course you would use cats in your comparison - well done!

dorky dad:
(And, yes, it "blows."

Mary said...

This post made me want to read the book, which I've heard a bit about. Coincidentally, instead of answering a question on a take home assignment, one of my students handed in a three page, ten -year old treatise on the Imperialistic Evil of birth control. Very strange -- I was raised Catholic, though, and recognize the language and intellectual bent of abstinence.

Beth said...

Quite the independent thinking student you have there.
This book would no doubt be a far easier read than that treatise.

Shari said...

Good review, as usual. You aren't just giving a summary, you are giving it the Beth-o-meter (input on what you think of it). :)

This is definitely a must-read. The semester is nearly over...good time to curl up with tons of books.

No matter how you cut it, oral sex is still sex. Many people think it's not. Bill Clinton, for one..."I did not have sex with Monica.."

Hope you are feeling better.

Beth said...

The Beth-o-meter. I like that.
Wonder how many kids take their cue from Clinton's "approach" to sex?

Gary said...

Good news on the health front it seems. Bronchitis should heal quicker than the other two.

Great book review Beth. I have a stack about 7 deep on my read-next shelf but I'll look to add this one.

Lainey-Paney said...

sorry you've been so sick~

Beth said...

Only 7?
And, yes, definitely good news on the health front!

Thanks - I am so much better.