Reader reviews for The Abstinence Teacher

Urgh -- I had high hopes for this book. I started to get a little bored halfway though but presisted because I felt like I needed to know what was going to happen. And the answer was nothing!! Urgh.. what a terrible ending. It made me mad that I even bothered finishing it. What a waste of time in my opinion
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I really enjoyed this book, but felt the ending wrapped up too nicely. His first book was so edgy; I loved that! This book was a bit edgy up until the end. I was a bit disappointed. I still am looking forward to the next, as I feel Perrotta explores issues that many authors refuse to touch.
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My first Tom Perrotta read, though I have at least one or two others on my shelf waiting. I wouldn't call this a gripping story so much as an exploration of relationships. And for that, I think it was fairly accurate. It's a good book to promote discussion, as it's got some controversial subject matter. There's Ruth, the local high school sex education teacher who is being pressured to tone down her subject matter & encourage abstinence. Then there's Tim, a soccer coach and an ex-substance abuser who's reforming himself via the local fundamentalist church. Their lifestyles don't in themselves clash necessarily, but when Tim initiates a prayer following a soccer game (Ruth's daughter is on the team), Ruth becomes upset and confrontational, and thus begins a rocky, but interesting relationship. There are no right's or wrong's in this book, but it does bring to light the ways in which we, as Americans, must find ways to intermingle different beliefs. The most disturbing part of this book for me was the ending, mostly because it felt unfinished. I realize you can't easily wrap up a complicated subject matter such as this, but I would've liked to have seen a little more resolution.As a side note, though I like Campbell Scott as an actor, I thought his voice was a little too dry & monotonic for this audiobook.
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The baptists move to town turning Ruth Ramsey's life as a parent and sex ed teacher upside down. At the same time Tim Mason struggles with sobriety and his place in evangelical society.I really enjoyed this novel - a sort of elevated soap opera. The characters were all well-drawn - the story was fresh and compelling. While it isn't a feel-good sort of a book - I found it hard to put down and very readable. I will definitely seek out other novels by this author.
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Despite its title, The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta, is not about adolescents having sex, or not having sex. It’s 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 this 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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I loved this book at the start and couldn't put it down. The characters are engaging and real. Perrotta develops his characters well and gives them real life flaws that help define them on the page. As I read, I felt the plot fell a little flat. I was interested in the main characters' struggles, but they took a back seat by the end and weren't totally resolved. I like books that are open ended, but this ending was a bit unsatisfying. I am still trying to figure out if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Overall, intriguing and interesting, a book that does raise a lot of questions about sex ed and religion in the community.
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This was my first Perrotta read and I'll be going back for more. I was dubious that I'd enjoy it...the premise seemed maybe...pretentious? But the humanity of the characters pulled me in and kept me reading. This book was a gift, and is one I'll pass on.
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Sympathetic portrayal of those often on opposite sides of issues. Evangelical character depicted as a lost soul in search of an understanding community which he thinks he finds in the ironically named Tabernacle Church and its devoted pastor.
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The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta is, first, the story of Ruth Ramsey, a sex-ed teacher with a practical view on her subject that leads her to teach in such a way that her students won't be afraid of their sexuality and will make decisions to practice safe sex when they do. A comment that involves the words "some people enjoy it" sets off a chain of events wherein the very pervasive Tabernacle, a local evangelical Christian church, demands that the school curriculum be changed to an abstinence-only perspective. Ruth is forced, much against her belief system and better judgement, to adopt this curriculum and teach it to her students under the school principal and superintendent's watchful eyes.Tim Mason, Ruth's daughter's soccer coach, is a divorced and mostly recovered drug addict who credits Jesus and the Tabernacle with resurrecting his life from ruin. Tim and Ruth cross paths none-too-favorably when after a particularly grueling match and scary moment in which Tim's daughter might have been seriously injured, Tim, without much thought as to the consequences, gathers his young team into a circle to pray. Soon Ruth is pioneering an effort to get Tim kicked out of coaching, and Tim's pastor Dennis, is wielding him like a religious weapon to open the eyes and hearts of the young to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The Abstinence Teacher is not a character-driven novel, nor is it especially a plot-driven novel. It is an issue novel. For much of the book, the characters are not so much living, breathing people as microcosms for the many things that are wrong with both overzealous legalist evangelical Christian types and their polar opposite, the ever-liberal card-carrying ACLU member, "I have the right not to have you pray in front of my kids at a public sporting event" sorts. Perotta does a good and surprisingly even-handed job of showing the problems with both extremes. First, you have the Christians trying to enforce their way of thinking on everyone without giving them a reason to choose their way. They naively believe that just because they choose only to teach abstinence and only in a climate of fear of the repercussions of unprotected sex, that teenagers will, indeed, abstain. Rather than preparing them for what may be their reality, they choose to frighten them about something that is natural, and in the right context, shouldn't be scary. Then you have Ruth, and her "type" of person who have nothing particularly against God or religion but object to it on priciple and who believe that young teens can be taught to make good decisions about sex but can't be taught or trusted to make their own decisions about religion and the belief systems they choose to follow. Perrotta exposes both sides' ignorance and hypocrisy.This books is well done, but is one that is a struggle. Most readers, I would guess, have a pretty visceral reaction to this kind of religious versus secular debate which make it difficult to read without being enmeshed in one side or the other of the debate - or at least, believing that both sides are totally foolish in their inability to compromise and see things for what they are. At its heart, The Abstinence Teacher is frustrating to read not because it isn't a well-written book or a fast read, but because the people here act so much like people do, and people are often so frustrating. As it turns out, though, despite their beliefs and religious affiliations, Perrotta does bring home the fact that his characters are, when separated from their more radical ways, after all, just people. People who are struggling and failing in face of life's challenges, people who are trying to maintain good relationships with their children even as they enter the difficult years of young adulthood, people who despite their going about it in just the wrong way are desperately trying to do what they think is best for their children - people who have more in common than they think.
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I liked the treatment of Tim, but I thought the "abstinence teacher" was boring, boring, boring...the kind of person who really believes nothing.
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