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The Abstinence Teacher: A Novel


The Abstinence Teacher: A Novel Cover

ISBN13: 9780312358334
ISBN10: 0312358334
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1.) There are numerous references to Ruth and Tims past sexual experiences scattered throughout the novel. How do these anecdotes color the debate about sex education at the center of the narrative?

2.) Is Ruth the victim of a witch hunt, or a teacher who went too far and deserved to be reined in by her community?

3.) Is Tim Masons faith genuine? Or is it, as his mother suggests, a crutch, something temporary that he needed to fight his addictions? What remains of his faith at the end of the novel?

4.) Is Ruth right to be upset when Tim asks the girls to pray after the soccer game? How is this different from Ruth teaching sexuality in a way that some Christian parents might find offensive?

5.) In order to keep her job, Ruth is forced to teach a curriculum she does not believe in. Discuss a time when you felt you had to sacrifice your beliefs or principles.

6.) Ruth doesnt challenge her daughter Eliza or hold back her permission when she wants to go to church with her friend from school. Can you think of other examples in The Abstinence Teacher when a character restrains him or herself from something they are very tempted to do?

7.) Can you think of something Ruths daughters might want to do that would horrify Ruth even more than organized church-going?

8.) What do you make of the Abstinence Refresher course taught by JoAnn? Do stories of sexual regret reinforce the idea that young people should refrain from sex until marriage? Or do they simply remind us that making mistakes—both sexual and otherwise—is an essential part of growing up?

9.) Both Ruth and Tim struggle with inner conflicts that make it difficult for them to fulfill their public roles. How does this influence their encounters? Do you think theres any future for them as a couple?

10.) If Ruth, Tim and their families lived in a 1950s version of Stonewood Heights, how would their stories play out differently? What about a 1970s version?

11.) How do you think private beliefs can best be balanced with public interests like education? Who should have a say in how a communitys children are taught? What happens when the community is bitterly divided?

12.) Did you feel differently about Evangelical Christianity after reading The Abstinence Teacher? Why?

14.) Despite some studies questioning their effectiveness, abstinence programs continue to be implemented. Why do you think that is?

15.) Ruth Ramsey is both a parent and a teacher in the public school system of Stonewood Heights. Do you think her own experience as a parent makes her a better human sexuality teacher?

16.) In her review of The Abstinence Teacher, critic Liesl Schillinger praises the books objective stance toward evangelicals: “What does the author think of Pastor Dennis and his flock? Without explicitly taking sides, Perrotta does not spell it out. Instead, he gives space and speeches to proselytizers and scoffers alike, letting readers form their own conclusions.” But religious scholar Stephen Prothero detects a strong bias against the Tabernacle: “Most of the evangelical characters in this book do little to upend the stereotypes that New York City writers and readers harbor about them.” How do you account for this discrepancy in the views of the two critics? Which do you think is more persuasive?

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Deborah Fochler, October 24, 2007 (view all comments by Deborah Fochler)
A funny, truthful, irreverant and utterly serious story about small town life with characters with very different beliefs. Based on sex ed in the school system and the ageless war that rages year after year. What do you tell the children and teenagers. Do you blindly tell them that sex is bad and they must refrain or do you give them information to protect themselves? This book is very serious while hysterically funny. The characters while flawed and each facing their own demons are endearing and could very easily be your next door neighbor or friend. I truly enjoyed the experience.
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Product Details

Perrotta, Tom
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Miller, Emily Jeanne
Scott, Campbell
Interpersonal Relations
General Fiction
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
October 16, 2007
Grade Level:
9 CDs, 11.5 hours
9 x 6 in 1 lb

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Family Life

The Abstinence Teacher: A Novel Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 272 pages St. Martin's Press - English 9780312358334 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "'Signature Reviewed by Jennifer Gilmore Tom Perrotta knows his suburbia, and in The Abstinence Teacher he carves out an even larger chunk of his distinct terrain. Set in the northeastern suburb of Stonewood Heights, Perrotta's sixth book takes on the war between the liberals and the evangelists. When single mother Ruth Ramsay, the sex ed teacher at the local high school, tells her class that oral sex can be enjoyable, the Tabernacle of the Gospel Truth church begins its crusade. Believable or not, the school agrees to an abstinence curriculum and in marches JoAnn Marlowe with her blonde hair and pumps to instill in Ruth the tenets of the new program. Gone are the days of rolling a condom over a cucumber; now Ruth is required to promote restraint, which she does wearily and halfheartedly. These are heady days, when students rat out their teachers and the local soccer coach — Ruth's daughter is on his team — is a divorced ex-druggie and active Tabernacle member. When Tim leads the team in prayer, Ruth wrenches her daughter from the circle and the hostility between the opposing camps grows. Who is bad and who is good? Ruth's youthful promiscuity rises slowly to the surface, while Tim's struggle to stay sober makes him constantly confront his past. He's lost his wife and daughter — also on the soccer team — to his addictions, but now he's clean and married to a Tabernacle girl. His Jesus-loving ways, however, are in direct conflict with his desires, rendering him the most complex and likable character. When he loses his own battle with abstinence at a poker party, the finest scene in the novel culminates with his keying 'Jesus' across the hood of an SUV parked in the drive. Ruth would gladly have sex if it would only come her way, and she also drinks on school nights. A less well-drawn complement to Tim, Ruth is a tolerant liberal with a newly toned body who plays therapist to her gay friends, but who can't accept that her children are interested in Jesus.The lesson is that everybody must give up something. Even Ruth's ex-lover, once a pudgy trumpet player, no longer eats to maintain his abs of steel. So what is lost when we cannot succumb to our desires? Who then do we become? The book is rife with Perrotta's subtle and satiric humor (the Tabernacle is seen as a place of diversity, while the punks, Deadheads and headbangers of Tim's past are all predictably the same), but these questions get lost as the plot winds down. Issues of sex and religion that have shaken the town become, in the end, the story of what Ruth and Tim's newly forged relationship will soon become. Jennifer Gilmore is the author of the novel Golden Country, which will be out in paperback in September. ' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "[S]hrewd yet compassionate....Ruefully humorous and tenderly understanding of human folly: the most mature, accomplished work yet from this deservedly bestselling author."
"Review" by , "Perrotta deals with these timely issues by having characters from the different camps forced to confront one another. What results from these civilized exchanges, which feel so human in their complexity and confusion, is a more personal, inside view of how such tensions play out. Recommended."
"Review" by , "Perotta focuses on the small, personal motives behind life's big shake-ups. A finely wrought novel that will be in demand."
"Review" by , "[A] genial new suburban satire....[Perrotta] resists giving firm answers to the thorny moral questions lurking in his material — which is a relief. (Grade: B+)"
"Review" by , "As formulaic as this plot might sound, Mr. Perrotta uses it not to construct a conventional screwball romance but to create a sad-funny-touching story that looks at the frustrations and perils of life in suburbia through darkly tinted, not rose-colored glasses..."
"Synopsis" by , Perrotta's topical novel illuminates the powerful emotions that run beneath the placid surface of modern family life, and explores the complicated spiritual and sexual lives of ordinary people.
"Synopsis" by , The rich new novel by the bestselling author of Little Children, Joe College, and Election.
"Synopsis" by ,
The rich new novel by the bestselling author of Little Children, Joe College, and Election
"Synopsis" by ,

"A whip-smart first novel that gripped me with its wry humor and wonderfully real characters" (Curtis Sittenfeld, author of American Wife), and the story of a stay-at-home dad who's holding his life together by a thread

"Synopsis" by ,
When your compass is taken away, how do you navigate? Stay-at-home dad Logan Pyle is holding his life together by a thread: his larger-than-life father, Gus, has just died, his wife is distant, and his kindergarten-age son has regressed to drinking from a baby bottle and sucking his thumb. Complicating matters further is Bennie, Guss beautiful young widow, with whom Logan has a troubled past. When the thread finally snaps, Logans actions threaten to tear the family he treasures apart. Carried by Logans wry, original voice, this moving debut follows one mans journey from child to parent.
"Synopsis" by ,
Stonewood Heights is the perfect place to raise children, but amid its good schools and healthy real estate market, a small-town culture war is brewing. The Abstinence Teacher focuses on two divorced parents who become adversaries in the mess: Ruth Ramsey is the human sexuality teacher at the local high school who believes that "pleasure is good, shame is bad, and knowledge is power." Her younger daughter's soccer coach is Tim Mason, a former stoner and rocker whose response to hitting rock bottom was to reach out and be saved. Ruth and Tim instinctively distrust one another, but when a controversy on the playing field forces the two of them to actually talk to each other, an uneasy friendship begins to develop. Elegantly written and with Perrotta's distinctive mix of satire and compassion, The Abstinence Teacher illuminates the powerful emotions that run beneath the placid surface of modern American family life, and explores the complicated spiritual and sexual lives of ordinary people.
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