I finished The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta a couple of weeks ago, so this review is far from fresh. The basic premise involves a high school sex ed teacher, Ruth, who innocently explains to a student that oral sex can be pleasurable and safe. The Christian conservatives in the town set out on a witch hunt to silence Ruth and implement abstinence only education in the school system. A few weeks later Ruth meets Tim, one of the born again Christians and her daughter’s soccer coach. As Tim is leading the girls in an after game prayer, Ruth rushes the field to remove her daughter from the unsanctioned prayer.
The premise is interesting – sex education is a hot topic, especially in small towns across America. Perrotta writes both sides from relatively sympathetic perspectives. Overall, I definitely got a sense the reader is primarily supposed to side with Ruth as the born again Christians often come off as bat shit crazy. Tim, however, was the most honestly drawn character. He’s a recovering alcoholic and addict who has lost his wife and daughter to divorce due to his addictions. The church helps him overcome his struggles with substance abuse, but deep in his heart you know he doesn’t entirely buy what they’re selling. Perhaps he has just replaced one addiction with another?
With all that being said, the ending meanders to a pit of nothingness. I have no clue what was supposed to be learned or achieved by any of these characters. The narration just comes to an abrupt halt with no resolution whatsoever. Ruth and Tim are apparently supposed to be attracted to each other – which I wasn’t feeling at all – no chemistry to speak of. Many people are Perrotta fans, but after this novel I can’t include myself in that number. What if all his other books end like this? No thanks.
So, the first 2/3 of the story is entertaining only to be destroyed by the final few pages. Read at your own risk.
Star Rating – 2.5/5