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‘The Abstinence Teacher’ by Tom Perrotta

  “Some people enjoy it.”
  Those words come back to haunt Ruth Ramsey, who utters them while teaching about oral sex during a high school sex education class.
  What was meant as a way of demystifying sex and showing students there is nothing shameful about sexuality turns into a divisive issue when a small evangelical church begins a “crusade to cleanse Stonewood Heights of all manner of godlessness and moral decay.”
  Tabernacle members demonstrate outside a video store until the owner removes the small “Adults Only” section. They speak out against teaching evolution and call for several Judy Blume books to be pulled from the middle school library. They protest against the town’s use of banners that say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
  Given that she has been teaching sex ed for more than a decade at the high school, Ruth feels somewhat insulated from the church’s objections. However, she is mistaken and becomes the center of a firestorm as the Tabernacle members push to get the sex ed program changed. The school board caves to pressure, and forces Ruth to begin teaching an abstinence-only program.
  The controversy sets the backdrop of Tom Perrotta’s “The Abstinence Teacher,” a thought-provoking read for those on both sides of the issue.
  “The Abstinence Teacher” is told through Ruth as well as Tim Mason, a member of the Tabernacle.
  Tim, the soccer coach of Ruth’s daughter, is a former drug addict who found hope and forgiveness through Christianity. Tim struggles to find a balance between his Christian beliefs and his human failings. He strives to lead the godly life the Tabernacle’s preacher says is the only way he’ll find salvation. All too often he finds himself full of shame from falling short.
  Other reviewers found Perrotta’s portrayal of evangelical Christians to be stereotypical. However, I thought the author painted Tim as a flawed human being who tries to be the best person he can be. Perrotta leaves it up to readers to form their own opinions about the negative or positive role the Tabernacle plays in this particular community.
  Ultimately I found “The Abstinence Teacher” to be balanced. Perrotta’s novel certainly shows that despite religious differences, we all have our own challenges.

 

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