by Jackson Pearce
Published by: Little Brown BYR
On: April 24, 2012
Source: purchased from independent bookstore
Content: this book tackles teen sex and religion in a provocative but thought-provoking way
My summary: As a child, Shelby made three promises to her dying mother: to listen to her father, to love as much as possible, and to live without restraint. Nearly six years later, Shelby is working hard on promises two and three. She has a pair of close friends who are helping her get through her Life List, four hundred daring things she wants to do. She's not making as much progress with promise one. She and her father aren't terribly close. When Shelby's dad joins the planning committee for the Princess Ball, Shelby has a dilemma. Her mom participated in the ball and Shelby thinks planning it with her father might bring them closer. But part of the ball is a ceremony in which the girls pledge to lead a "pure" life. Shelby doesn't think it's realistic to stay pure until marriage, so she resolves to have sex before she makes the pledge. Except she doesn't have a boyfriend. She'll have to start a new list..
My take: I've heard that Jackson Pearce writes edgy, imaginative books, and I was excited to try her first contemporary. Two things I'll say about Purity straight off: first, it tackles the tricky subjects of religion and teen sex head on. Second, the book's premise is going to attract some people and horrify others.
Purity's premise does require a fair amount of suspension of disbelief. Shelby wants to honor the promises she made to her mother while also honoring the pledge her father wants her to make. That's admirable. But then she decides that the best way to accomplish this is to hook up with any willing guy. Shelby's best friend Jonas even makes a joke about Shelby's predicament, calling it a "perfect sitcom plot." I do love a writer with a sense of humor about her own premise!
I also admire the openness with which this book approaches the subject of teen sex. The book raises interesting questions. What does "purity" really mean? Is purity until marriage realistic when people often marry in their thirties? Do chastity pledges work? I don't think the book will end up changing anyone's mind on these issues, but I have to give Jackson Pearce credit for raising them.
What I liked most about Purity was its depiction of a father-daughter relationship. Shelby is still angry about the loss of her mother, and she and her father awkwardly circle one another, trying to ignore the huge hole in their family. I found their emotional distance from one another heartbreaking.
I also appreciated the fact that the book isn't preachy; it's the story of one girl and the choices that she makes. I didn't agree with all Shelby's choices, but I was rooting for her to figure everything out. (I can't say I was rooting for her to throw herself at some random guy, and I won't tell you whether or not her somewhat dubious plans come to fruition.)
And the cover. I love it so much! There's a key on the back.
Have you read either of Jackson Pearce's two fairy tale retellings, Sweetly and Sisters Red? If so, which one do you recommend I start with?