the abstinence teacher

The Abstinence Teacher, by Tom Perrotta

straight to the point: this book was a disappointment.

i actually enjoy reading mainstream books that talk about christians. there’s an almost voyeuristic fascination with finding out how we’ll be portrayed. i’m often quite pleased with the depiction. a great example of this from my fairly recent reading was the young adult fiction book evolution, me, and other freaks of nature, which (like this book) takes place in a public high school and revolves (at least partially) around a conservative church’s efforts to pressure the school into their belief set. but, in freaks of nature, there were at least some of the christian characters who were portrayed in three dimmensions. another was the year of living biblically , which — i thought — was very generous and gracious, even while having some fun with the extremist tendencies of some christians.

the abstinence teacher centers on the story of a liberal sex ed teacher who is forced to teach an abstinence curriculum she abhors, as a result of the pressure of a somewhat fundamentalist church lobbying the school board. a second key character is a reformed druggie who is a recent convert to this church, and the soccer coach of the central character’s daughter.

problem is: the christians in the story are seriously two-dimensional. every single one of them is an idiot. well, that’s not quite true: the soccer coach is a two-dimensional jerk until he starts to lose his faith — then he becomes a fully-developed character.

i know there are idiots in christianity. i know there are churches who do the things portrayed in this book. but the book lacked because the author wasn’t willing to make any of the christians with a mix of good motives and bad behavior.

bummer. could have been such a better book with a bit more complexity.

4 thoughts on “the abstinence teacher”

  1. Haven’t read this one but I wasn’t much impressed with Little Children. I think the main issue I had with that book was him narrating from the female character’s perspective and sort of failing to suspend my disbelief.

  2. Kevin, that is one of my favorite non-fiction books. Cringe-worthy but also honest and redemptive.

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