Monday, April 16, 2012

Book Review: Purity, by Jackson Pearce

Pearce, Jackson. Purity. 224 p. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 2012. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780316182461. 

I had some pretty intense dental work done last week (fun, right?) and needed a really good book to keep my spirits up while recovering. Purity turned out to be the perfect book to curl up with for the afternoon. Funny, sweet, and thought-provoking, it kept my attention and left me with a feeling of contentment after I turned the last page.

Before Shelby's mother died, she made her promise three things: to listen to her father, to love as much as possible, and to live without restraint. Fast forward several years, and Shelby's dad drops a bomb on her: they are going to plan and attend a purity ball! When Shelby realizes that vowing to her father that she'll remain a virgin until marriage may directly contradict her promise to live without restraint, she decides to exploit a loophole: if she's not a virgin when she makes that vow, then it doesn't count.

As you can surmise from the slightly absurd premise, this book is hilarious. The juxtaposition of Shelby calculating the most efficient way to lose her virginity while simultaneously taking waltz lessons and going cake-tasting with her dad for the purity ball is uproariously awkward. It would make a great movie, complete with a terrifically embarrassing buying-condoms-in-a-drugstore scene.

On top of the comedy, this book has real heart. The strained relationship between Shelby and her dad is emotionally affecting as they fumble to relate to one another, as is Shelby's grappling with the loss of her mother. Too, I love the strong relationships between Shelby and her two best friends, Ruby and Jonas. (And those of you who have a soft spot for good friends who fall in love, get ready to be delighted with the romance in this story!)

This book also offers a sensitive exploration of some weighty topics such as grief and faith. The author doesn't offer any grand, sweeping statements about what's right or wrong-- just an affirming message that our choices are our own, and that's okay. It's positive without being preachy.

As a librarian, part of my job is to consider the audience for any book I read. One question I had going into Purity was: how will a conservative reader react to a book about a girl trying to lose her virginity before attending a purity ball? Things to consider: sex is a part of the plot, but it's not glorified, nor is the decision to have sex minimized. Shelby is realistically portrayed as a down-to-earth girl who sometimes makes poor decisions, and her plan to lose her virginity is not depicted as, you know, a super great idea. Shelby questions faith and spends time being angry at God over her mom's death, but there are no neat and tidy answers about faith in the end. As noted above, one of the main themes of this book is making your own choices. So, a conservative reader might appreciate this as a conversation starter, or they might decide it's not for them at all. To each their own, right?

Personally, I loved this book.

Look for Purity on bookstore shelves on April 24. ARC for review kindly picked up at ALA Midwinter by my friend Lalitha of Masala Reader.


  1. The premise sounds interesting and I like that the author injected some humor. I'll have to look for a copy of this one!

    1. This book definitely has humor- if you're looking for something funny (yet thought-provoking), I recommend it!

  2. I recently saw a show on purity balls and I thought the Fathers came off as extremists. (keeping in mind that is one opinion) My point being, that purity can be a very heavy topic so I think its great that an author could add humor or personality to the subject.

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