Torn between Promises, Shelby makes a decision - to exploit a loophole and lose her virginity before taking the vow. But somewhere between failed hookup attempts and helping her dad plan the ball, Shelby begins to understand what her mother really meant, what her father really needs, and who really has the right to her purity. From Goodreads
WARNING: To talk about this book the way I want to, I'm going to have to spoil the story. Please don't read any further if you don't want Purity spoiled for you.
Purity is one of those perfect titles for Sex in Teen Lit Month II that I couldn't not read it. As interesting and thought-provoking as it was, I didn't really enjoy it much. A little too young for me.
Just before she died when Shelby was six-years-old, Shelby's mum made her promise three things; 1. Love and listen to your father. 2. Love as much as possible. 3. Live without restraint. Shelby has spent the last ten years striving to keep her promises in order to feel closer to her mum. When her Dad signs up to the committee organising the Princess Ball - a father-daughter dance - Shelby has to take part to keep Promise One. But when she learns that there are vows involved, vowing to live a life of purity, she knows a vow like that to her father will be breaking Promise Three. With the help of her friends Jonas and Ruby, Shelby comes up with loophole to negate the vow, and makes a plan: lose her virginity before the Princess Ball.
There are three main themes to Purity, grief, religion, sex. Ten years have gone, but Shelby is still grieving for her mother, and the whole point of keeping the Promises is to not let her mother down. Shelby doesn't really know how she feels about God; she has to believe in him, otherwise where is her mum if there's no heaven? Yet she doesn't understand why he killed her mum, and why he seems so out of reach for her now. And then there's Shelby trying to have sex before the Ball so she can keep her promises to her mum, do as her Dad says, and live without restraint.
'I have to keep the Promises. They're more important than my virginity.' (p40)I thought Purity would be quite an interesting book; at the time of reading this, I'd only read one other book about teenagers and chastity, The Second Virginity of Suzy Green by Sara Hantz, though that was about Suzy pretending to be a virgin, where as in Purity, Shelby wants to lose her virginity before having to promise to not have sex until she's married. Purity felt quite young to me; although Shelby is 16, it felt like the book is aimed at a younger audience, around the 14 years mark. Despite this, I found the topic intriguing, as well as the differing ideas about sex.
'"Look, Shel, there's getting laid, there's dirty porno sex, there's making love, there's... well, I'm sure there are more. They're not the same thing. You need to go into this knowing which one you're shooting for. 'Cause if you're trying to make love and you end up getting laid, you'll be disappointed."' (p39)There were a few points Purity covered that I loved. When Shelby tries to have sex the first time round with her ex, Daniel, it's refreshing to see a boy who doesn't want to have sex - simply because he doesn't want to, rather than because he's not interested.
'"Wait, Shelby," Daniel says, his voice loud and filled with surprise. "I can't have sex with you."It's interesting to see the tables turned and have a girl try to persuade a guy to have sex, when the stereotypical idea is that guys want it and girls say no. It wasn't only awesome to see a guy not wanting to, but sticking to his refusal: it's ok for either gender to not want to have sex.
My mouth drops open and my breath escapes. He doesn't want me. What's wrong with him? What's wrong with me?
I jerk away from him and he falls to the floor in surprise.
"Wait - look, sorry, but--"
"What?" I drop the condom. "I'm good enough for second base, but not a home run?"
"Jesus Christ, don't go all crazy. I just don't want to have sex."' (p94-95)
The second time she tries, it doesn't happen because the guy doesn't want to wear a condom, and she just won't have it. Ben does offer to "pull out", and I wish this was addressed as not being safe either, but I guess you can't have everything. Without being preachy, Purity re-emphasises that condoms are required not just to prevent pregnancy, but also to protect against STIs.
'"Maybe Ben thinks condoms are just another scare tactic. You know, 'Oh, God, if you have sex you have to seal your organs in rubber and it's awful' instead of 'It feels the same and you don't get the herp.'"' (p193)I love how the topic of judging others for their sex lives comes up on at least two occasions. Generally, in the world, there is a lot of, "You have a lot of sex? I'm going to judge you. You want to have sex? I'm going to judge you. You like sex? I'm going to judge you." Purity looks at this, with Shelby looking at the judgements she has made in the past, with her own plan to lose her virginity. Would she be judged for how she's going about things? Without coming right out and saying it, it points out that everyone's sexual choices are their own, whatever the whats, whys or hows, and they shouldn't be judged for it.
'I've called girls like Anna whores, judged them, hated them, but I'm not better than them. ... I'm trying to have sex, just like they are. Does that mean I'm a slut?' (p211)There is a meet up at the church with the Pastor for all the "Princesses" to discuss the ball and the upcoming vows. The Pastor talks about how their "purity" is a gift from God, and compares them being tempted to give away their "purity" to Eve being tempted to eat the apple. He talks about her being "disgraced" and feeling "shame" because "she sacrificed God's gifts" (p113). Pearce does a wonderful job of writing it in a way to make it clear that this view is a pretty crappy one, but it really riled me up just the same. I also love how Shelby questions the Pastor about how Adam ate from the apple too, so why aren't the boys having some kind of Prince Ball? Really made me smirk and think, "Go, Shelby!" But the Pastor's response? '"Well, Shelby, luckily there just don't seem to be as many temptations in the world for young men as there are for young ladies"'. (p114) Yes, because young girls are sexual deviants that are going to go and corrupt those young innocent boys! Oh my god! This comment isn't really addressed sadly, but I so wish I could argue with this guy.
For all the good I've talked about so far, there's something about this story that really bugged me. Shelby does have sex, with someone she doesn't care about. From the very beginning, it's obvious that something is going to happen between Shelby and Jonas. Obvious. So if Shelby was to have sex, you expect it to be with him. Or for her to not have sex at all. For her to realise in time that this isn't the best idea - because the whole book gives you this feeling. Jonas is against it, Shelby herself doesn't really want to do it. You expect her to come to her senses and not have sex. She does come to her senses in the end, but it happens progressively, before, during and after. And I was so let down! Because... god!
I'm not against casual sex or one-night stands in real life or in YA. And I also completely understand that people make bad decisions, have bad sex, and lose their virginities in ways they regret later. But throughout the book, time and again there were things said about this not being the way to do things - not the casualness of it, but the "getting it out of the way" idea. As a reader - not an adult, this is not coming from me because of the age I am - as a reader, the book makes you feel that this really isn't a good idea, that you should have sex because you want to, no matter the circumstances around it. Shelby doesn't want to have sex for herself, but for the sake of the Promises. The fact that she ends up having sex anyway... it just seems like mixed messages. Teenagers are intelligent, I know this. But some of them are also having sex due to peer pressure and for other negative reasons. It really worries me what they're going to get from this book when they reach the point where Shelby is having sex. Her reasons for it. Her dismissive attitude to all that led up to it, that the sex 'wasn't that life changing' (p230). Almost a feel of "all this hoop-la over nothing." Really? It's not the idea that sex isn't a big deal - sure for some, it's not. But after a few people - including Shelby at times - thinking this wasn't a great idea? I just don't think it's right, personally. And that's probably it, my personal reading of the story. Nor do I like that the person she has sex with saying after, '"Hey, it's not a bad way to get used."' (p230) What?! I just really can't get on board with the ending of this book. It feels a lot like Shelby is thinking, "Go against what I feel is right for me and have sex anyway." To back that up, the following quotes:
'This isn't the way you're supposed to lose your virginity. Not that I really know how you're supposed to do it - marriage bed, one-night stand, back-seat of a car - but still. ...But my heart is more attached to the Promises than it is to my virginity. It's not a big deal. I repeat the phrase over and over in my head until I've almost convinced myself.'
'"I never really pictured how I wanted my first time to be, you know? But now that I'm trying to have it, I feel like I'm giving up some fantasy that never even existed to begin with."It just really made me so angry. I was fairly enjoying the book until I got to that part. It just doesn't feel right to me. Some really good things covered in Purity, but that ending... so disappointed.
"Like what?" Jonas asks cautiously.
I flush a little. "I don't know. With someone I love, I guess. I never thought I'd do the whole wait-till-marriage thing, but I think I wanted it to be with someone I cared about."'
Thank you to Hodder Children's Books for the review copy.
Published: 6th March 2014
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
Jackson Pearce's Website