The Abstinence Teacher: Tom Perotta

Tom Perotta is a master of smart suburban satire (Election, Little Children), specialising in hot-button issues at the heart of the American psyche. In *The Abstinence Teache*r, Perotta takes on the evangelical Christian right, pitting them against a sassy (if weary) liberal Sex Ed teacher. Ruth’s ill-advised comment about oral sex to her students (‘some people enjoy it’) causes a scandal when a group of churchgoing parents report her to the school board. Soon, she is making a public apology and grudgingly adopting the new abstinence-based curriculum foisted upon her, represented by the hot blonde spokesperson of ‘Wise Choices’ – a combination of cheerleader, church girl and barracuda.

Meanwhile, her daughter’s soccer coach, Tim, a reformed addict and born-again Christian, spontaneously leads the girls in prayer after a moving game – and finds himself the target of Ruth’s bottled-up fury. What follows is a push-pull attraction of opposites between the newly remarried Tim, who is struggling with his demons, and the sexually frustrated Ruth. But it’s not all smart quips and sly observations – this book is also a surprisingly nuanced look at a world many liberals (and most Australians) know little of and understand less. Tom Perotta is the American Nick Hornby – smart, often laugh-out-loud funny, and deceptively page-turning in style. Good literature is very rarely this entertaining.