Sunday, January 06, 2008

Book Review: The Abstinence Teacher

The premise of this book seemed interesting enough for me to put it on my wish list for Christmas. A high school sex-ed teacher gets in trouble when she tells one of her students that "some people enjoy it" ("it" being oral sex). The girl's parents are members of a local evangelical church and they take offense, threatening a lawsuit. (Although I couldn't figure out what they would be suing over, myself.) So the school caves and changes its sex-ed curriculum to an abstinence-based program.

The teacher, Ruth, is a divorced mother of two, and her youngest daughter just happens to have a new soccer coach who is a member of the church. The two of them get into an argument on the soccer field one day when Tim, the coach, leads a prayer with all of the girls on the team.

I can see where the author was going with this book by pitting these two opposites against each other, and I think he did a very good job. It was particular interesting to me because Ruth was fairly conservative in her own life, while Tim was an ex-drug addict and musician who lived the "good life" for most of his adult life. Both characters were developed pretty thoroughly, although at times I felt like the people in Tim's life were pretty cliched at times. Tim and his wife Carrie were perhaps the exception to that.

I was pretty bothered by the religious tone in the book, mainly because the religious characters came across as rather crazy—especially Pastor Dennis, the church leader. But I think that was kind of the point. I found myself getting pretty upset over the things that were happening, and I was glad to see that Tim eventually started to open his eyes to the obsessive control that Pastor Dennis seemed to want to have over his life. I have to say, however, that it took a while for me to see all of the church-based stuff as something more than hyperbole, because I grew up in an inclusive Christian environment that has it's problems but was nothing like that. In the end the way that this book made me evaluate my own upbringing and how the Adventist church differs from these Evangelical churches was one of the best things about reading the book.

It wasn't hard to tell how the author felt about what he was writing about, but I did appreciate that way that he didn't make a villain out of Tim. In fact, he did a really good job of showing his humanness and how even Christians struggle sometimes. Unfortunately for Tim he didn't seem to realize that himself, and his pastor didn't do a very good job of helping him see that, either. I would say that an overarching theme I took from this book is that these kind of churches really appeal to certain people—damaged people who can't seem to get control over their lives and so who then need rigid rules in order to feel like they are finally doing something right.

My biggest complaint with this book was the ending. It felt really abrupt, even though certain events had been set in motion alerting the reader to what would eventually happen. Also I couldn't buy into any attraction between Tim and Ruth, primarily because I felt like Ruth could do a lot better than Tim, who obviously had his own issues to work through before he should even think about being in another relationship. I have to say that the author's writing style was a little too matter-of-fact for me. Don't get me wrong, it was good, but his strengths lie in plotting and characterizations rather than actually writing style.

Lindsey's Grade: B-

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