Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Purity by Jackson Pearce

There's a special delight when books that I'm reading simultaneously, or back-to-back, have links to each other. That's what happened with Purity, a contemporary YA novel by Jackson Pearce, and No Crystal Stair, a historical biography by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. One of the individuals in Nelson's book is Lewis Michaux's sister-in-law, Mary. The two never got along, but Michaux gives her credit for standing firm in her religious beliefs.

"She set her mind to saving souls and put everything she had into it. Like that Young People's Purity Club she started. 'Be a Peach Out of Reach,' she told the ladies. And 'If there is nothing for sale, take the sign down.'"

The title of Pearce's novel should give you a clue to the subject matter in Purity  -- also the lock with the heart-shaped keyhole on the cover. Sixteen-year-old Shelby reluctantly agrees to attend a traditional father-daughter dance sponsored by her church, knowing that she'll be required to make a ceremonial vow of purity at the end of the evening. Promises she made to her mother six years earlier now pose a major dilemma.

When Shelby was ten, her mother died of cancer. In ICU, the last time they saw each other, Shelby's mother made her promise three things: to love and listen to her father; to love as much as possible; and to live without restraint.

Keeping all three promises might be impossible. Can Shelby listen to her father and live without restraint? She decides to hedge her bets by exploiting a loophole. Shelby is determined to experience her first sexual encounter before the dance, so that she won't balk at the restraint of the chastity vow.

Losing one's virginity is a topic that will always interest teens, and it's certainly been covered in other YA novels. The honest way in which Pearce handles Shelby's sexual encounters adds substance to the otherwise light-hearted mood in Purity. Grades 9 - 12.

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