The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perotta brings us to a small town in NJ, to introduce us to Ruth Ramsey, a human sexuality teacher. She works hard to pass on the information that she feels young people need to know to make important health decisions, her basic theory being “pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power.”
One day, in class a student makes a statement that oral sex is disgusting, like licking a toilet and proceeds to list all of the std’s that can be contracted during this particular act. She goes on to ask why anyone would do it. Ruth begins her response by saying, “Some people enjoy it…” It is only after she is charged with using her class to promote this particular act, that she realizes that she may have been baited.
Several months later, as she is struggling to adapt to the new curriculum of abstience, she meets Tim Mason, former rockstar (and all that that implies) now spiritual warrior of the Tabernacle evangelical church, her daughter’s soccer coach.
After a particularly difficult game in which his own daughter had been knocked out for several seconds, he gathers the girls in a post game prayer. It sends Ruth right around the bend. In her eyes this isn’t a simple matter of giving thanks, it religion is being thrust, inappropriately upon her daughter.
During a time when many schools and towns are grappling to come to terms with some sort of sexual health education format that parents find useful and appropriate, The Abstinence Teacher highlights many of the issues that are consistently under discussion. Should sex education be part of the school curriculum. If so, should anything other than abstinence be taught. How is the behavior of teens any different today from what it was during their parents generation. How do our own histories affect our grown up decisions?
This is the first book I have seen that has almost equal numbers of ratings on Amazon. The bar graph of 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 stars are all almost equal. This is not a life-changing, must read book – nor is it one in which all characters are dealt with equally. Many readers reported that they felt the Christians were portrayed in a one dimensional manner. Others said that the gay couple was stereotypical and one dimensional. The point I would make is that the most fully fledged characters are the Ruth and Tim. Finally some readers complained that the ending left them wanting, it was too abrupt. I disagree. I felt that the ending was natural – furthering what began at the end of the book would have either begun another, far less interesting novel OR would have been rendered the ending commonplace.
You can buy The Abstinence Teacher from Amazon, your local book store or borrow it from your local library.
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin; Reprint edition (September 2, 2008)