Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 11, January 14, 2008


The Abstinence Teacher

By Tom Perrotta

St. Martin's Press, 2007, 368 pages, $16.47 on Amazon

Review by David S. Hall

Click on cover to buy this book from Amazon.com

We don’t usually review novels in the Journal, and I usually don’t have time to read them, but this was a Christmas gift from my step-daughter and son-in-law who also find time in their busy lives to teach sexuality classes. And I did have some time over the holidays to relax. The problem was, it was very hard to put down after I started to read.

Tom Perrotta has a way of getting inside the heads and hearts of his characters and describing them to the reader in a complex way that we can relate to very easily. He also is very up to date and in tune with Marty Klein's book America’s War On Sex, and the very fundamentalist way of thinking in some churches. How could I not read it?

The teacher, Ruth, is doing a great job with a comprehensive sexual health class, but is ‘reported on’ by a student who goes to the Tabernacle. Ruth answered a question and said that some people enjoy oral sex. Such blasphemy! The school board goes overboard, and so does the comprehensive curriculum, replaced by an abstinence curriculum. Ruth’s daughter plays soccer in a youth league, and when Ruth goes to a game that her team wins, the coach gathers these pre-teens in a circle and offers up a prayer. Unfortunately, Ruth had just met the coach, and her hormone levels were rising. Her response was very confrontational. Of course, Tim goes to the Tabernacle, a church that believe they are called to clean up our culture and save us from our sins. The book explores the complexities of small town life, spiritual and emotional challenges in our lives and how we teach our children.

Rather than spoil the fun of reading this, the rest of the story revolves around Ruth and Tim, his relationship with the Tabernacle and his history as a druggie and alcoholic, their kids, their ex-spouses and some really cool gay friends. The war on sex gets pretty hot in the lives of the kids and adults in this suburban town. If, after reading this novel, you don’t read/reread Marty Klein’s book, you are missing out on what is going on in America. There are no easy answers, especially when we want to believe there are.

Here is a book you can enjoy and learn something from at the same time.

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