The Abstinence Teacher (2007)

by Tom Perrotta

Although the book is titled The Abstinence Teacher, there are actually two protagonists. Ruth Ramsey is a divorced ninth-grade sex education teacher in a Northeastern suburb. Tim Mason is a divorced former rock bassist who has turned to evangelical Christianity to conquer his addictions.

Ruth gets in trouble for a frank answer to a student's question. Already riled up by religious conservatives, she erupts when Tim leads his fifth-grade soccer team, on which both have daughters, in prayer.

Can these two come to understand one another?

Tom Perrotta manages to be sympathetic to both sides — not only to Ruth and Tim but also to the others in their lives. That includes Tim’s pastor at the Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth, who doesn’t subscribe to “It’s not your business” when saving souls is at stake. His pushing Tim into an inappropriate marriage would be damnable, except Pastor Dennis so sincerely believes God approves of what he’s doing.

The fault line between the religious right and secularists is a serious issue in modern America. Perrotta deserves credit for taking it on, and for not ridiculing evangelicals. What he’s done especially well is to portray two people who start out as polar opposites and, by the end of the book, manage to see past their differences and discover one another’s humanity.


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