Book Reviews


Author Tom Perrotta's novels "Election" and "Little Children" were made into movies. And he has another novel out this fall. It's called "The Abstinence Teacher." Should you be reading this story before it hits theaters? Reviewer Alan Cheuse tells us more.

ALAN CHEUSE: Single mother Ruth Ramsey teaches health at a suburban New Jersey high school and finds herself forced to mouth the lessons of a new puritanical Just Say No sex curriculum. She can't bring herself to do it. This gets Ramsey into trouble with the school administration already in hot water with members of a local evangelical church. A rally over prayer in the playing field, she's against it. He leads it. With Tim Mason, her teenage daughter's born-again soccer coach, serves as the novel's equivalent of a Hollywood moment and a genesis for the plot.

Will Coach Mason, a burned-out, married man and former boozing rock 'n' roller who's found Jesus find love with a woman who abhors his church's views? Will Ruth, who dresses to the nines for school and spends quiet evenings at dinner with an aging gay couple, hook up with a man whose beliefs have made the classroom so miserable for her? You know the ending. This is comedy, and love, after surmounting any number of major obstacles, will triumph.

Unfortunately, Perrotta seems listless in the execution of his plot, his prose unexceptional, I can't quote a single memorable passage, and the tone, which is neither sharply satirical nor enthusiastically comedic, seems a little off.

Except to the most devoted Perrotta fans, I'd say wait until this one comes to the big screen or straight to DVD.

SIEGEL: The novel is "The Abstinence Teacher" by Tom Perrotta. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, teaches writing at George Mason University.

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