I was excited to read The Abstinence Teacher, I was really interested in it when it first came out but then, like many of the books on my very long list of books to read on Goodreads, I promptly forgot about it as other exciting books popped into the market and captured my attention. However, my friend offered to lend me a stack of fiction books for Bookstravaganza this year and this is was one of the ones she included.
What I really enjoyed about the novel was that you never really want to completely root for one character, despite the obvious protagonist, all of the characters offer sypathetic stories that offer readers a point of relation. Leaning very liberal with a strong belief in comprehensive sex education, I clearly empathized with Ruth, the sexual health teacher. Particularly after one of her comments raises a hot debate in the community. These first interactions with community, especially witht the local conservative and fundamentalist Tabernacle Church, makes it different to see the church and the community in a positive light; it becomes increasingly difficult as the school board begins to force the teachers into a conservative, abstinence-only line of teaching that many of them disagree with. The second section opens up in the perspective of one of the outspoken members of the Tabernacle Church, who coaches the soccer team which Ruth’s daughter plays on. Time stirs up debate by leading the girls soccer team in prayer after the game and, after Ruth’s experiences with the church and censorship, and the media storm that occurred after her remarks in class, she is of course very angry that Tim is using his influence on these young impressionable girls.
As the novel progresses, you start to see this unfolding of conflict between religion and secularism. Is Tim really trying to push these girls in the religion? As you read Tim’s sections of the novel, you begin to see that even he struggles with his troubled relationship to the church. He’s passionate about his religion and what he believes in, but he begins to question the conservative right fundamentalist church that doesn’t permit pornography, rock ‘n roll, or many of the things that were a significant part of his past. The author begins to play with the idea of being right or wrong and exploring the struggles that each of these characters have in defining their beliefs and also in the idea of guiding children to be open to allow to build their own faith, not forcing them to blindly participate in their beliefs.
My friend set me up to expect an unsatisfying ending, that I wouldn’t really get get the resolution I wanted but I’m really happy with the end. Both characters end up not getting a happy resolution, instead realizing that you might not always know everything or understand everything but you might still end up in the right place. While it doesn’t resolve the community’s debate throughout the novel of abstinence-only education versus a comprehensive sex education, it really explores beliefs and your relationship within the community, and even how the opposite sides of the spectrum (in this case) were actually really similar people. I do recommend the book for a thoughtful read.