Pure by Tera Elan McVoy
Simon Pulse, 2009
This is one of the pinkest books I’ve read this year. Personally, I try very hard not to discriminate against books for their cover. Fortunately, I’m not a teenage boy who might be embarrassed to be seen in public with this book–or the plethora of pink books on the market. In fact, a recent talk by Dame Jacqueline Wilson (who has published nearly 100 books for children & teens!) reminded me just why publishers want pink books–more girls buy books, so more sales.
But this book is a whole lot more than just pink. It’s about, as you might have guessed from the cherry on the front,virginity. In this case, keeping it until marriage via a promise made with a purity ring. This is a practice that has become common in mega-churches and the ceremony is often called (as it is in the book) the “Ring Thing” where all the girls promise together that they won’t have sex until they get married. Fun, right? Your next question is likely, why did I choose to read this crazy book about a bunch of religious girls? It was recommended to me by a colleague I trust as a balanced representation and exploration of purity rings, religion and all the issues that carries with it.
What’s the story here? Tabitha is best friends with Morgan, and they are friends with three other girls who all have purity rings. As you might expect, one of the girls breaks her promise and has sex with her long-term boyfriend. Predictably, this causes trouble. The promise-breaker is shunned by most of her friends who believe she has sinned, broken her promise with Jesus, betrayed her friends, etc. But Tabitha sticks by her. Now, when we meet Tabitha, who narrates this story, we quickly learn that her family is somewhat liberal and she has gone to church by herself for years because religion is something she enjoys. She is extremely close with her parents and they love her, but are not into the Ring Thing or religion. They let her do her thing and go to her youth groups, often with her best friend Morgan who is the megachurch type of girl.
If you know me, the first thing I think of when I hear about youth groups and youth pastors is Dan Savage, sex advice columnist, and his usual rants against the specific youth pastors who are often found doing not so nice things to and with some of their youth. (Spoiler!) And the youth pastor here is a problem, though you don’t see it until too late. (End spoiler!) And now I’ve brought up something entirely different: sex. Wait, a book about rings for virginity until marriage is a book about sex? Duh! If you’re talking about not having sex, you’re talking about sex. And Tabitha meets a boy, a cute boy whose kisses make her knees weak, so she is thinking about sex. In a good way! And she thinks about religion and God and Jesus and the Bible and all of it, in far more detail than most books I read ever get into. I’m not gonna lie, it may have made my eyes glaze over at points. But it wouldn’t if you were really interested in how religion is interpreted by teenage girls.
I was ultimately impressed by this book. It reminded me about tolerance–especially that I need to practice it even when books are about *gasp* super-religious Christians. Tabitha learns a lot about tolerance here, and she discovers it, rather than being taught it. That makes this book feel authentic. It’s also about deep friendship between girls. Tabitha is so aware of her girlfriends, their smile. I have to say, even without the pink cover, this would be a girl book.
Bottom line: This book was a stretch for me, but it won’t be a stretch for girls who want to read about friendship and girlfriends and betrayal. You can sell it that way. Or you can sell it because it is, in the end, a book about sex and consequences.