This book starts out telling us about Ruth, a high school sex ed teacher who gets into hot water when she talks about oral sex in her class. When the school falls to the pressures of the Bible-thumping members of the community and instates a curriculum teaching abstinence and nothing else, Ruth is forced to go along with it.
Tim is a former rock ‘n’ roller druggie who has found God and gotten clean. He’s a member of the most conservative church in town, as well as the coach of Ruth’s daughter’s soccer team. When he leads a prayer after a game, Ruth flies off the handle and demands that it never happens again.
The book follows the two characters separately and in situations together. It’s quite interesting because each person is right in his or her own way. I strongly believe teenagers should learn about safe sex, and teaching only abstinence is doing a disservice to the students in the long run. However, I can see why some parents would be upset with such candid conversations about certain aspects of sex. I also don’t think it’s right to subject a whole soccer team to prayer, especially when it’s a community-run team. However, if certain girls want to take a knee to pray, is that so bad? Others can sit out. Though yes, it may seem exclusive to those who don’t want to pray.
I think this is what Perrotta was trying to accomplish with this story. The world is gray, and everyone needs to have a little more understanding. You shouldn’t succumb to the pressures (schools feeling forced to switch to abstinence-only teaching; having your child be a part of prayer if you don’t want her to be), but find a medium (encourage your teacher to keep the anecdotes to a minimum and stick to the true facts; don’t force children to pray who don’t want to, respect the parent’s wishes).
The book has several characters who really come to life: Ruth’s gay best friends, Tim’s over-the-top pastor or his much younger, conservative, somewhat boring wife. I think this is one of Perrotta’s strong suits – creating characters who are a lot of fun to read about. I’ve never read his books before, but I may want to try Little Children (which was a 2006 Oscar-nominated movie with Kate Winslet.).
I really enjoyed this book. It’s nothing too groundbreaking, but it’s also not too formulaic either. Some reviewers state they hated the way it ended. I personally liked it a lot. It spoke more to real life. I think my only criticism of the story is that there’s not enough Ruth. I like her as a mother and a person with strong convictions. I wanted to learn more about her feelings. But overall, it was a very entertaining story. I read it in three days.
Favorite Perrotta quote: "Keep writing. Don't be discouraged by rejection. When things don't go well, it helps to think of yourself as a genius and the rest of the world as a bunch of idiots."
Fun Fact: Perrotta became big after his book Election was made into a cult movie classic with Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick. Great movie. He'd written several other books, but never really became known until Election came out in 1999.