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130 of 147 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "If it upsets people to hear the truth, so be it."
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...
Published on October 24, 2007 by E. Bukowsky

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52 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Where's The Beef?
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...
Published on November 14, 2007 by Jill I. Shtulman


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130 of 147 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "If it upsets people to hear the truth, so be it.", October 24, 2007
This review is from: The Abstinence Teacher (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. Stonewood Heights is about to experience a confrontation in which ardent churchgoers, who are anti-evolution, pro-censorship, and against what they perceive to be "godlessness and moral decay," clash with those who cherish their right to reject religion.

Perrotta's central characters are flawed and vulnerable individuals. Ruth is intensely lonely. In spite of the fact that she is a forty-something woman who is still attractive, she has not had a long-term romantic relationship since her divorce. Mason left behind years of earthly pleasures and debauchery to embrace a restrictive lifestyle that, so far, has helped him stay clean and sober. Unfortunately, he is bored with Carrie, and he harbors lustful feelings for his ex-wife, Allison. He is also beginning to question whether he can continue adhering to the Tabernacle's stringent code of behavior. Although he is tempted to start drinking again, he fears that going down that road will undo everything that he has worked so hard to achieve. Above all, Tim is determined not to jeopardize the fragile relationship that he has developed with his daughter, Abby. Although Tim and Ruth argue bitterly over his insistence that praying with his team after a soccer game is no big deal, the two have an undeniable chemistry between them. Can they reach across their religious divide to find common ground?

Ruth's witty gay friends, Randall and Gregory, alas, are pure stereotypes. Randall is "a cultured gay man, an opera-loving dandy with a fetish for Italian designer eyewear." "[He] set his cup down on the Wonder woman coaster he kept on his desk, next to an autographed picture of Maria Callas." Randall and Gregory freely dispense advice to Ruth while they squabble about their own troubled relationship. With them, Ruth feels comfortable enough to reveal her most embarrassing thoughts and feelings. Another hackneyed portrayal is that of twenty-eight year old JoAnn Marlow, a smug and condescending visitor to Ruth's high school who boasts that she is a virgin who "can look myself in the mirror and honestly say that my mind and body are one hundred percent intact." She is there to convince the students that they need to arm themselves against a toxic culture by rejecting premarital sex.

To his credit, Perrotta offers no pat answers to the provocative questions that he raises: What influence is evangelical Christianity exerting on American society? Can a person who has lived solely for instant gratification successfully adjust to a conformist and traditional lifestyle? How can a teacher who has taught youngsters to enjoy safe sex bring herself to disseminate what she considers to be misinformation? Perrotta is a clear-eyed and dispassionate observer who skillfully addresses these and other controversial and emotionally charged issues. In a key scene, Tim attends a gathering of the "Faith Keepers," an organization that is devoted to winning "a historic battle in the ongoing war for the hearts and minds of our children." In the hands of a lesser writer, this scene could have been a laughable display of out-of-control zealotry. Instead, Perrotta depicts the men who attend the convocation as mostly regular guys seeking stability and peace of mind through membership in a close-knit religious and social group. "The Abstinence Teacher" is a sharp, fast-paced, tightly focused, humorous, and involving story that works on two levels: It is a thought-provoking novel about social mores in modern suburbia and the ways in which each of us tries to find happiness and fulfillment without sacrificing our most cherished ideals.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very timely topical novel, February 11, 2008
This review is from: The Abstinence Teacher (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. Who among us hasn't been in the position of doing something that we didn't really want to do and perhaps found morally repugnant because we were too worried about the dire consequences if we didn't?

As for the rise of the Christian right wing, Perrotta has some provocative scenes. The prayer at the girls' soccer match is symbolic of the increasing pressure these days to allow things like prayer in school. While the coaches and Pastor Dennis attempt to justify their actions by saying that if it makes the girls uncomfortable they don't have to participate, they are missing the point. Situations like these are exclusionary for people who follow other faiths or who don't believe in God so to conduct such a prayer session is to impose Christian beliefs on others. While the character of Pastor Dennis is a man of conviction, he is also blinded by that conviction and it leads him to push Tim into doing things that aren't really right for Tim--particularly his marriage to Carrie. I thought Perrotta did a good job of showing how those who have the best intentions can sometimes wreak the most havoc.

I've seen this book being accused of being anti-Christian. I don't really see it that way at all. What this book is really against is imposing our own views on others. JoAnn is convinced that the best thing for kids is to teach them only that they should abstain from sex. But how is she serving those kids who won't follow her advice and who could perhaps end up pregnant or with an STD because they weren't educated about contraception? Ruth is convinced that every Christian is brainwashed and judgmental and yet when her daughters express an interest in attending church, she is the textbook definition of judgmental toward them. Pastor Dennis is convinced that Tim needs a good, Christian woman to keep him in line but what about the suffering Carrie incurs as a result? At heart, I believe this is a book about learning to keep an open mind and learning to respect the views of others. Regardless of what is it we believe in, we all risk a great deal when we become blind to the thoughts and feelings of others who don't happen to agree with our own personal crusades.
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52 of 59 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Where's The Beef?, November 14, 2007
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This review is from: The Abstinence Teacher (Hardcover)
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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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a Good Novel, September 27, 2008
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I picked up this book with anticipation. Having seen and really appreciated the film version of the author's novel _Little Children_, I expected a complex drama with interesting characters and lots of surprises.

Most of the book wasn't . . . bad. One thing that really stood out to me was how mundane many of the situations were. It felt like the author was just trying to pad word counts--including routine transaction dialog as one main character picked up his Saturn at the oil change place, for example. The "Christians" in the book were strawmen, caricatures. I have enough familiarity with evangelical culture to know that the characters in this book that are on the Christian side of the fence are exaggerated. The author makes them obnoxious and small-minded enough that they are not sympathetic at all.

Perhaps the payoff here is that the two main characters represent both sides of an intractable moral debate; each side is explained and humanized. In the end, however, one party turns out to be far more responsible and likable than the other, giving a sense that the author is using his biases to direct and manipulate the reader.

Also, I found the ending to be anticlimactic and depressing.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Character Study Sparkling With Wit and Satire, November 26, 2007
This review is from: The Abstinence Teacher (Hardcover)
The Abstinence Teacher," by Tom Perrotta, is a subtly satirical and witty study of religious fanaticism--a fascinating journey into the American cultural war between the liberal left and fundamentalist Christian right. Perrotta brings these issues to life within the microcosm of a typical upper-middle-class Northeastern suburb--the fictional town of Stonewood Heights, "Sodom with good schools and a 24-hour supermarket." The drama plays out between two seemingly polar opposite protagonists, both in their early forties: Ruth Ramsy and Tim Mason.

Ruth is a liberal-left-leaning woman who teaches sex education at the local high school. She is a divorced mother of two adolescent girls. Ruth hasn't had a serious relationship since her divorce, and achingly longs for another man in her life. Ruth is deeply suspicious of a new church that has been spreading its influence everywhere throughout the town. She fears this new evangelical Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth church as if it were something "out of a horror movie" like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."

Tim is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, who found Jesus only a few years earlier after hitting rock bottom. Tim belongs to The Tabernacle and credits its pastor with saving his life. He lost everything to his former addictions--his house, his job, his wife, and his two lovely girls. The Tabernacle is his lifeline, and no doubt, his latest addition. Tim's mother is right on target when she accuses him of "using Jesus like a substitute for drugs." Tim is a genuinely good human being, brutally handicapped by an overly tenacious addictive personality, one that has taken hold of his brain and rewired it, making his recovery an extremely difficult life-long struggle.

In an effort to spend more time with his older girl, Abby, Tim volunteers to coach the local girls soccer team. There he befriends Ruth's daughter, Maggie, one of his star players. Maggie soon begins to idealize him and view him like a father figure.

Perrotta takes great care to flesh out each of his main characters. The story is told from each main character's opposing point of view. The author presents each character and their worlds with such detailed precision that at times readers may feel that they are being given an anthropological lesson about some exotic land that he is exploring for their benefit.

The Tabernacle clashes with the town over two issues, and Ruth finds herself at the center of each.

First, the church objects to the liberal manner in which Ruth conducts her sex education classes. Their arguments hold sway over the school board, and Ruth soon finds that she is being forced, against her will and her own strong moral compass, to teach a new form of Christian sexual abstinence education. Consequently, she is a seething hotbed of pent-up anger over this issue.

The second clash occurs when coach Tim gathers his soccer players into an inadvertent prayer circle after a particularly successful game. Ruth sees her daughter Maggie being drawn into the prayer circle and yanks her away in a titanic fit of rage. Everyone looks on in horror as if she were out of her mind. Subsequently, Ruth tries to stir up legal action against Tim among other soccer parents, but eventually drops it after Tim comes over to her home and apologizes for his lapse in judgment. They get to know one another briefly. Ruth sees deep into his man's troubled soul knows that his apology is genuine. They discover that they have much in common and keep their conversation going long after it should have ended. On a primal level--just below their own consciousness but not the readers--each recognizes that they are strongly attracted to one another.

In typical Perrotta style, the novel ends abruptly at the point where each main character makes a fateful decision that will propel them into a significant new stage of their lives. The author leaves it to the reader to decide what may happen next and how that may affect all the other loose ends in the story. If you like this type of ending, your brain will undoubtedly be on fire dreaming up countless possible story lines that could bring closure to this story. But if you're the type of reader who likes the author to complete a story fully, you'll be sorely disappointed.

Perrotta's prose sparkles, and his main characters come alive. The book is filled with subtle wit and sly humor--many unveiling the author's viewpoints on key issues. However, for the most part, Perrotta prefers to remain impartial and allow readers to draw their own conclusions.

Sales of this book in the American marketplace may suffer because interest in the American-evangelical-Christian-versus-liberal-left cultural wars has subsided. That was not the case when Perrotta began writing this novel--here the author may have missed the boat. But this issue is still of intense interest to the rest of world. Others around the globe are still frightened and mystified by Americans shift to the religious right and are looking for books that may help them understand these issues. "The Abstinence Teacher" may be exactly their ticket. Recent news stories reveal that Perrotta has already written the screenplay for this novel. In the right hands, with the right stars cast in leading roles, this story could be an international blockbuster movie.

Personally, what I found most interesting about this novel was the author's careful and loving portrayal of Tim Mason--a decent human being severely handicapped by an addictive brain disorder. Perrotta made me truly care about this damaged soul. He was able to accomplish the same effect for me, with the character of Ronald, the child-abuser, in "Little Children." Now almost three years since I read that book, and it is the tortured character of Ronald that still haunts me--this, while the two main characters have long since faded into oblivion. I suspect the same will happen with this novel: Tim Mason will remain in my memory for a long time to come.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You have to read between the lines, March 29, 2008
By 
This review is from: The Abstinence Teacher (Hardcover)
To all those people who gave this book a low rating, I don't think you get it. Yes, it starts out a bit like a formulaic story with stereotypical characters. If you are just in it for that, you might be disapointed that the ending is not formulaic and the plot is not tied up neatly in a little bow. And, although Perrota has a bold style of writing on hot-button issues of the day, most of the answers are not spelled out for the reader. You have to look a little deeper.

Unlike a lot of other reviewers, I found the ending to be quite satifying. I thought the characters were dynamic and changed throughout the course of the novel. Yes, the novel brought up a lot of qustions - maybe more questions than answers, but I like it because it made me develop my own opinions on some of these cultural issues.

Ruth says something off hand in class, and to her surpise the community is outraged. The community also become outraged at something Tim says/does on the soccer field. These characters, their words, actions and opposing viewpoints are juxtaposed throughout the story. I think the book underscores the power of words and what can happen if they are said in the wrong place or at the wrong time. (And yet, at the same time takes a good look at how some people can overeact to something said, or misinterpret a person's sincere intentions.)

(For those people who don't see the purpose of the characters Randall and Gregory -- their conflict is also about what is said or not said about their relationship, and the effect these words have on their feelings for each other.)

I do think that Tim changes a great deal throughout the novel. His actions are very selfish in the begining. Near then end, although confused about his relationships -- with his wife, his pastor, Ruth and Jesus - he starts to think for himself, make his own decisions, and think about the feelings and needs of other people. (like how his friends will get home from the Faith Keeper's meeting if he leaves with the car.) He stops following the script for being a "stoned rocker" or a "born again zealot" but starts being himself.

One reviewer wondered why Perrotta decided to name the book after Ruth. I don't think he did. Who is the abstinence teacher? Ruth? Pastor Dennis? JoAnn Marlow? It could be a number of characters... and abstinence can mean abstaining from more than just sex. Like abstaining from judgement.

I think Perrotta did a good job with this book. As he did in Little Children, he provided an interesting, entertaining story -- a satire of suburbia -- that causes you to question not only the character's beliefs but take a good look at your own.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another compelling read from an immensely talented novelist, November 8, 2007
By 
This review is from: The Abstinence Teacher (Hardcover)
I think few writers today mix poignancy and humor as well as Tom Perrotta does. From other reviews, you can guess the general outline of the story. A health education teacher, Ruth Ramsey, gets in trouble for making a casual comment in defense of oral sex ("Some people enjoy it.") That brings the wrath of the religious right in her town, and she is forced to teach a class advocating abstinence only, scaring her students into believing the only outcomes that can come from premarital sex are unwanted pregnancies or wretched diseases. While she struggles with her integrity, she meets the coach of her daughter's soccer team, Tim, an ex-alcoholic and member of the Christian church that protested against her former teaching methods. Before she realizes who he is, she becomes attracted to him.

The novel is told from the shifting viewpoints of Ruth and Tim. As can be expected from the author of LITTLE CHILDREN, Perrotta does an amazing job of getting inside the heads of these two very different characters, and Tim in particular. He is a former party-hound, who is trying very hard to reform himself and lead a good life amidst all the temptations the modern world presents - including a sexy ex-wife, who likes to stay in her revealing pajamas on the mornings he's scheduled to drop off their daughter.

There are some laugh-out-loud moments here. A scene at a men's bonding group in a major auditorium is particularly good, as is the hysterical male banter between a bunch of guys who invite Tim to join their poker game. When Ruth has to go to a "re-education" camp to teach her how to the toe the party abstinence line, she makes an impassioned defense of living a life full of regrets and mistakes, essentially realizing it's the only way to feel alive.

I especially enjoyed the scenes on the soccer field. Perrotta is particularly adept at writing sports scenes. After reading about the pick-up football games in LITTLE CHILDREN, I wanted to go out and play myself. He does a similarly excellent job here at catching the nuances and rhythm of soccer. It's quite amazing to read all the specific details that Tim must keep in mind about each of his players during the flow of each game.

I'm surprised that anyone had any complaints with the ending. Without giving it away, I will say the ending makes perfect sense to me. Tim reaches a point in his life where he has to make a critical decision, and it's quite clear what the decision will be and what the implications will be for him and the other people in his life. Even the characters who are less conflicted than Ruth and Tim -- such as the pastor who leads Tim's church and is determined to save his soul -- are told with Perrotta's trademark humor and insight, making them intrigiuing and sympathetic even as they pursue their single-minded goals.

I hope that Perrotta will revisit these characters at some point in the future. I'd love to see where Ruth and Tim are five years down the road. If you like reading about the complex interior lives of people dealing with the daily struggles of life in the American suburbs, with an examination of the place religion can play thrown in, then I highly recommend The ABSTINENCE TEACHER. I also highly recommend Perrotta's other books. JOE COLLEGE and THE WISHBONES are personal faves of mine. If you want to read another recent novel about the battle between the liberal-minded and the Christian Right, check out David Mizner's HARTSBURG, USA.

By the way, if you have ever had the joy of seeing Tom Perrotta at a reading, you know how charming and modest he is. He richly deserves his current success, and his character comes through in the compassion he has for his fictional characters.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Walk away, August 19, 2009
This review is from: The Abstinence Teacher (Hardcover)
The Abstinence Teacher follows the backlash that occurs when Ruth Ramsay, a sexual education teacher who takes great pleasure in still looking hot in her 40's, states in class that oral sex can be enjoyable for people. Ruth believes that a fully informative sexual education class is imperative, while the rest of her suburban town does not. Conflict ensues. Mostly, the focus in the book is on Ruth and her relationship with Tim, who is her daughter's soccer coach and is a born again Christian and ex-drug addicted rocker, as they engage in a typical on-again off-again, do you like me? circle one: yes or no, relationship.

Oh, Tom Perrota! I wanted to like this book, but I didn't. I loved Little Children, but maybe I just don't get The Abstinence Teacher. I kept waiting for the real book to begin, or the characters to evolve-or even just become realistic. Perrota is a master of suburbia fiction, but he fell short with The Abstinence Teacher. Little Children really delved into each character and their way of life, The Abstinence Teacher simply skimmed the surface of the incredibly timely issue of sexual education and the skirmishes between the political right and left. The basis of the book, which focuses on the controversy between sexual education and religion faith would appear to be chock full of tension and conflict, but Perrota somehow manages to negate most of it by never really fleshing out the arguments for either side of the issues. The reader is left with a glimmer of what the book could have been, and I was left disappointed by a author who is talented enough to truly write a thoughtful book on the subject. Read it, but don't expect to be impressed.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, January 24, 2009
By 
Having read 'Election' and 'Little Children' I was very disappointed in Perrotta's latest novel. I thought the characters were very flat (and overly stereotypical) -- I certainly didn't believe in Tim's sudden turnaround in accepting Jesus. The character was written as way too wise to have fallen under the *born again* spell and his former drug addiction was unrealistically executed. He never would have had an addiction counselor who coerced him into an affair and I would have more believed him following the 12 steps than finding Christ. I thought Perrotta's Christian characters were one sided -- I would have at least expected something more intelligent and satirical. And the final romance between Ruth and Tim was predictable and silly, something to be expected in chick lit but certainly not from an author of Perrotta's caliber. The gay couple was cringefully stereotypical as was the guest lecturer on abstinence. Very disappointing.
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24 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The real lesson of the past isn't that I made some mistakes, it's that I didn't make nearly enough of them,", November 1, 2007
This review is from: The Abstinence Teacher (Hardcover)
If you're picking up a Tom Perrotta novel there are a few things you can be sure to expect. First and foremost is Perrotta's signature wit - fiercely intelligent, unsparing, and laugh-out-loud funny, the kind of dead-on satire that most writers can only aspire to. Secondly, a cast of disaffected characters, usually adults in a state of arrested development. These emotional time bombs propel the plot along with the help of feature number three: a moral quandary to act as a catalyst for their unraveling. Election had its unethical campaign practices, Little Children: A Novel the double whammy of adultery and how to react to the town's newest resident (a convicted pedophile), and "The Abstinence Teacher" tackles religious fanaticism in small town America.

It all starts with four little words. When Ruth Ramsey, a divorced sexual education teacher, responds to a question regarding oral sex by commenting that "some people like it," she finds herself at the center of a religious firestorm demanding that the school district replace the traditional sex-ed class with abstinence-only lessons supervised by `virginity consultant' JoAnn Marlow, an imperious virgin who is as much of a shrewd businesswoman as she is a devoutly religious woman. It's a trend that's been gaining momentum in Ruth's hometown of Stonewood Heights ever since the evangelical Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth came to town after its leader, Pastor Dennis, decided that his previous church had become too permissive and lax when it came to taking a moral stance on issues (his first act? Trying to have books like Judy Blume's classic "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret" banned from the local library). Now Ruth is trapped teaching a curriculum that she believes is unrealistic, ineffective, and patently dishonest in its use of skewed statistics to warn her students about the dangers of contraceptives and STDs. The Tabernacle is cleaning up Stonewood Heights, "as if this sleepy bedroom community was an abomination unto the Lord, Sodom with good schools and a twenty-four hour supermarket." And woe be to anyone who gets in their way ...

But while abstinence education is the catalyst for the novel's events, it is a debate over team prayer at youth soccer games that forms the true arc of the plot as it brings Ruth into conflict with Tim Mason, her daughter's soccer coach and a follower of Pastor Dennis. Until recently, Tim's life was a certified mess. A former musician and perpetual addict, Tim lost everything - jobs, friends, even his family - to his pursuit of his next fix. Stints with sobriety never lasted until he met Pastor Dennis. Now religion is Tim's livelihood, and he is terrified of where he would be without it. Devotion isn't easy, and temptations (including Ruth Ramsey) are ever-present, so it will not be easy for Tim to stay on the straight and narrow ...

As usual, Perrotta refuses to add his own two cents to the debate, preferring to remain impartial and allow the reader to come to their own conclusions, but if you ask me Ruth and Tim represent the dangers of taking an extreme point of view. Ruth is quite right about the importance of separation of church and state, but she is so eager to protect her daughters from the church's influence that she has failed to realize that they might actually like religion. And her outright rejection of her new curriculum is, in its own way, just as radical as JoAnn Marlow's revulsion at her regular teaching strategy. Tim, meanwhile, must deal with the fact that religion is, for him, only the latest in a long string of dependencies. He thinks that by giving control to a higher power he will save himself, but cannot deal with the emptiness of not deciding anything for himself. His life demands that he reject passion, verve and excitement, and in his fear of relapse Tim accepts this, but must wonder that he is dooming himself to a hollow life.

Perrotta brilliantly captures the complexities of these severely thorny issues without ever losing sight of his signature wit and sense of irony. I've been a loyal fan ever since "Little Children" was published, and I can't wait to see what Perrotta comes up with next.

Grade: A-

P.S. Also be sure to check out the film adaptation Little Children which Perrotta co-wrote and features spectacular performances from Kate Winslet, Jackie Earl Haley, and Jennifer Connelly.
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The Abstinence Teacher
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta (Hardcover - October 16, 2007)
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