The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta.
Overall Score: 6.5/10 stars (or hearts or spades whatever works for you)
Quick Summary: This novel is about two characters, Ruth and Tim. Ruth is a 40-something divorced mother of two girls who teachers sex-ed in a small town. She is forced to teach an abstinence-only curriculum and is constantly being monitored by a evangelical, Christian church. Tim belongs to the church called the Tabernacle and is the divorced father of one. He used to be a drug addict but was saved by the power of Jesus. He is the coach of his daughter's soccer team and is currently struggling to stay true to his faith. The two clash when Tim decides to conduct a team prayer with his daughter's soccer team, a team that also includes Ruth's youngest daughter.
Tim is a very interesting and complex character. He wants to stay true to his faith even though his faith is driving a wedge between him and his daughter. He suffers a lot from guilt and the belief that he is constantly doing something wrong. He's haunted by his past addictions and a growing attraction to Ruth who seems determined to destroy him. On one hand, I liked Ruth and I understood why she is so upset by Tim's prayer at the soccer game after suffering so much persecution from the Tabernacle. However, as the book progresses she becomes a much less compelling character when compared to Tim. While Tim is worried about losing his faith, his daughter, and falling off of the wagon, Ruth is worried about her dismal love life and the fear her daughters might develop beliefs different from hers. Don't get me wrong. I liked Ruth and she has many touching moments (like when she breaks down in tears while out to dinner with her friends Randall and Greg). Her fear of dying alone is a legitimate fear and I do feel for her in that respect. But overall I liked Tim's character better, and I feel like he had a much better arc. He is definitely more changed in the end than Ruth. The supporting characters are very well done also.
The Story 2.5/3**
I liked the plot of this book a lot and felt that it moved at a really nice pace. Ruth's spars with the Tabernacle representative Joann were wonderfully entertaining, and I really liked watching how a simple moment like Tim's prayer could have such a ripple effect in this small community. The book is definitely more character-driven than plot driven. The scenes between Tim and Ruth are really lovely. I really liked Ruth's story about her teenage relationship with Paul Caruso. It was one of my favorite chapters and liked seeing how that relationship eventually ended up. Ruth's relationship with her daughters is portrayed very strongly and so is Tim's relationship with his kid. I really liked the comparison between Tim's relationship with his ex-wife Allison and his new wife Carrie. It reveals a lot about Tim and where he currently is when it comes to his life and his faith. There are lot of wonderful past anecdotes that reveal a lot about the characters.
The Writing, Genre Aspects, And Other Things that Haven't Been Mentioned 1/2*
There's not much to say here. Simple, clean prose. Nothing really special but nothing to complain about either. I've never read Little Children, but I have seen the movie and based on that and the summaries I've read of other Perrotta novels, he really likes to write about suburban families and portrays them in a really honest and often comic light.
Bookshelf or Giveaway Pile 1/2*
I definitely plan on giving this book away. It was a great read but there's nothing about it that seems to warrant a second reading. I will however be checking out some other titles by Perrotta because I did find this book enjoyable. Little Children has been on my to-read list for a while now. (Let me know if you want my copy of The Abstinence Teacher.)