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The Abstinence Teacher (Reading Group Gold) Paperback – September 2, 2008

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Product Details

  • Series: Reading Group Gold
  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (September 2, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312363540
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312363543
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (186 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #467,983 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

SignatureReviewed by Jennifer GilmoreTom Perrotta knows his suburbia, and in The Abstinence Teacher he carves out an even larger chunk of his distinct terrain. Set in the northeastern suburb of Stonewood Heights, Perrotta's sixth book takes on the war between the liberals and the evangelists. When single mother Ruth Ramsay, the sex ed teacher at the local high school, tells her class that oral sex can be enjoyable, the Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth church begins its crusade. Believable or not, the school agrees to an abstinence curriculum and in marches JoAnn Marlowe with her blonde hair and pumps to instill in Ruth the tenets of the new program. Gone are the days of rolling a condom over a cucumber; now Ruth is required to promote restraint, which she does wearily and halfheartedly. These are heady days, when students rat out their teachers and the local soccer coach—Ruth's daughter is on his team—is a divorced ex-druggie and active Tabernacle member. When Tim leads the team in prayer, Ruth wrenches her daughter from the circle and the hostility between the opposing camps grows. Who is bad and who is good? Ruth's youthful promiscuity rises slowly to the surface, while Tim's struggle to stay sober makes him constantly confront his past. He's lost his wife and daughter—also on the soccer team—to his addictions, but now he's clean and married to a Tabernacle girl. His Jesus-loving ways, however, are in direct conflict with his desires, rendering him the most complex and likable character. When he loses his own battle with abstinence at a poker party, the finest scene in the novel culminates with his keying Jesus across the hood of an SUV parked in the drive. Ruth would gladly have sex if it would only come her way, and she also drinks on school nights. A less well-drawn complement to Tim, Ruth is a tolerant liberal with a newly toned body who plays therapist to her gay friends, but who can't accept that her children are interested in Jesus.The lesson is that everybody must give up something. Even Ruth's ex-lover, once a pudgy trumpet player, no longer eats to maintain his abs of steel. So what is lost when we cannot succumb to our desires? Who then do we become? The book is rife with Perrotta's subtle and satiric humor (the Tabernacle is seen as a place of diversity, while the punks, Deadheads and headbangers of Tim's past are all predictably the same), but these questions get lost as the plot winds down. Issues of sex and religion that have shaken the town become, in the end, the story of what Ruth and Tim's newly forged relationship will soon become. (Oct.)Jennifer Gilmore is the author of the novel Golden Country, which will be out in paperback in September.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

What would Jesus teach? The answer to that questionâ€"or more accurately, whether it ought to be answered at allâ€"has provided an ongoing battle in America’s so-called culture wars. According to most critics, Tom Perrotta, author of Election (1998) and Little Children (***1/2 July/Aug 2004), successfully draws his characters out of the trenches in The Abstinence Teacher, but he makes no progress toward redrawing the battle lines between the evangelists and the liberals. Critics’ opinions of the novel seemed to result from their expectations: some reviewers felt another send-up of evangelical America is just what we need; others found it cliché. Nevertheless, most remained engaged by Perrotta’s likeable and complex characters.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

Never have a read a book like this, no ending!!
Tom Perrotta seems intent on finding out in his second book, The Abstinence Teacher.
The other characters seem to be very thin indeed, not one of them felt real to me.
tiggrie AKA Sarah

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

132 of 150 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Ruth Ramsey has been teaching Health and Family Life (Sex Education) to teenagers for more than ten years. Her credo is: "Pleasure is Good, Shame is Bad, and Knowledge is Power." She tries to demystify sex by giving her students the information they need to live fulfilling and healthful lives. Unfortunately, some candid remarks that she makes in class offend a student whose parents worship in an evangelical congregation. Ruth's open and frank approach to sexuality is incompatible with the Christian family values that have taken root in the increasingly conservative "sleepy bedroom community" of Stonewood Heights. Ruth's supervisors insist that she adopt a new curriculum in which abstinence, rather than safe sex, is promoted.

In "The Abstinence Teacher," Tom Perrotta focuses his analytical and satirical eye on the mores of suburban life, with a fresh and timely twist: How does a community react when fundamentalist Christians try to impose their views on their fellow residents? When soccer coach Tim Mason prays with his team after a game, Ruth, whose daughter Maggie is a star player, is enraged. How dare anyone try to brainwash her daughter? Mason is a musician, former addict, and recovering alcoholic who found salvation in the Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth, presided over by Pastor Dennis; Tim now lives a staid life with his submissive wife, Carrie. Dennis is elated that Tim is proselytizing among young people; however, some townspeople contend that it is inappropriate to conduct prayer sessions with impressionable teenagers without parental approval.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Bookphile TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Tom Perrotta really has his finger on the pulse of life in suburbia. I first felt it when reading Little Children and experienced it once again with this novel. He understands the minute dramas that take place behind each and every pleasant facade in an everyday neighborhood and he does a wonderful job of putting them into words. Never one to shy from controversy, he deals with some pretty controversial topics in this novel--namely the abstinence only education movement and the rise of the Christian right wing. It goes without saying that this work will offend some but it will resonate with others. If you haven't read the novel be forewarned that this review will contain some spoilers.

I thought Perrotta did a really great job with Ruth. He had a good feel for how teachers sometimes must adhere to a curriculum with which they may vehemently disagree and what this novel has to say about this type of sexual education is certainly worth considering. I've had an insider's view of a district that taught an abstinence only program and Perrotta does a great job of highlighting its deficiencies. While there is certainly nothing wrong with encouraging kids to wait to have sex, it is naive to deny that some of them won't. I'll never forget listening to one of the Health teachers talking about the ridiculousness of not teaching kids about contraception while a pregnant student sat in her class sipping Coke. Perrotta nicely captured Ruth's inner struggle as she strove to subvert the curriculum in the subtlest way possible. As tempted as she is to stand up for her convictions, she has to face the practical and think of the repercussions it would have.
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52 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed Tom Perrotta's Little Children and I was looking forward to The Abstinence Teacher. And let me say straight off that I enjoyed it; the pages flew. But afterwards, I was left with that feeling you get when you head straight for the dessert and find that you're still hungry. The writing was fine -- but where was the beef?

The story centers on Ruth, a 40-something divorcee and a sex education teacher, and Tim -- an ex-druggie who has replaced his drug addiction with a Jesus addiction. The issues are delineated: do we give our kids what they need in the real world to avoid pregnancy and disease? Or do we aim higher and try to teach them self-respect and a connection with God's love (a Christian God, of course).

The problem is, the characters are not rounded out enough. After a two-year dry spell, Ruth seems perpetually horny. Why would she fall for a man who embodies everything she despises about smug Christianity -- a man who happens to be married and an ex (and possibly current) drug abuser? Especially with two children in her care? The answer is only obliquely alluded to. And Tim. Does he truly understand the tenets of his faith or is this just another crutch? And what is it about this faith that is so very appealing? The reader finds it difficult to understand why a controlling pastor and his sycophants are so desirable to Tim.

I wanted to feel conflict. I wanted to view depth. I wanted to understand the tug-and-pull of these characters' dueling desires. Instead, I got top-of-page headlines. And for this reader, that wasn't nearly enough.
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