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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review: Purity by Jackson Pearce

Purity by Jackson Pearce
Amazon | Goodreads
218 pages
Published April 24th 2012 by Little, Brown BYR
A novel about love, loss, and sex -- but not necessarily in that order.

Before her mother died, Shelby promised three things: to listen to her father, to love as much as possible, and to live without restraint. Those Promises become harder to keep when Shelby's father joins the planning committee for the Princess Ball, an annual dance that ends with a ceremonial vow to live pure lives -- in other words, no "bad behavior," no breaking the rules, and definitely no sex.

Torn between Promises One and Three, 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 starts to understand what her mother really meant, what her father really needs, and who really has the right to her purity.

I was a little hesitant to read this, I'm not even going to lie. It's not that I don't like Jackson's writing (because I do), or that I thought that she would be heavy-handed and didactic and...zealous (because I didn't, really). It's just that there was the chance. I mean, a YA book that tackles virginity in terms of purity runs the risk of being much more god how do I say this without sounding close-minded narrow evil jaded awful what the hell I'll just go for it religious and saccharine and gee-golly-gosh wholesome for my tastes. It runs the risks of being a little too brain-washy for me. I like me some free thought, okay? Some exploration of deep issues and personal choice, not just a battle of lustfulness and godliness. (do not want.)
[Also: is it wrong of me to say that I was also worried that there was a chance that I would lose respect for Jackson and her writing if that was the path it did take? Because that was part of the trepidation, I'm not going to lie. I avoid religious discussions whenever I can because I don't want to inevitably view people differently afterward... Unintentional moment of truth, there.]

FORTUNATELY, Jackson avoided all of the pitfalls I feared the story might fall into. It's much more coming of age - and coming to terms - than some heavy-handed emphasis on religion and purity. It is about questioning and finding yourself and your beliefs, whatever those may be. Shelby questions God - and questions everything - as she learns to navigate her relationships and discover who she is and what she thinks, feels, and wants.  It's funny and poignant - and predictable, yes but not in a bad way. And it's super quick.

Now, here's for the opposite-of-me warning: I think the things I liked may offend some readers.Where I found it well handled and thought it was authentic and relatable, others may find it, uh...sinful? I'd venture to say that reading the synopsis should really be enough to tell you if you'd be offended or made uncomfortable by this book. It's all pretty laid out (pun accidental, but...eh, appropriate, I guess). At its core, it's not so simple, but on the surface, it IS a book about a girl trying to lose her virginity (with someone, anyone - a stranger, if need be) as a loophole in a promise to her parents, and that will inevitably bother some people. If you're one of those, you may want to skip this. (Though I think maybe you're exactly the type of person that needs to read this.)

I think also there are times people may find Shelby's relentless adherence to the "Rules" at any cost a bit ridiculous. Personally, I thought it made sense in a really sad, human way, so it didn't bother me too much. People do this. In real life, people do seemingly bizarre things like this. They hold on too tight and too long, and do absurd things out of love and guilt and fear of what's next, and because they don't know how to stop. They don't know what will happen if they stop, and it's easier not to confront whatever it is that this bizarre thing (like The Rules, or whatever it may be that people cling to) is helping to avoid. Added to the fact that Shelby's so young, and her reaction didn't really seem so farfetched anymore. But there are those who will always think it's farfetched, or will think it's forced for the purposes of the story. Or who just plain won't relate to Shleby.

But those two warnings aside, I think this is definitely worth the read. It was sweet and enjoyable, and engaging and quick. And even if it didn't necessarily knock my socks off and have me pushing it on everyone I knew, it still wasn't something I wanted to put down or pass on, which is really saying something considering how hesitantly I started it.
[And it didn't make me think less of Jackson or her writing. If anything, it made me think better of both.]


  1. Your review makes me really want to read this. I loved how you tiptoed around things without really tiptoeing around anything:) Well done!

  2. I really enjoyed Purity because it handled the questions raised really well. But you're right. It is a controversial topic, and I think some parents (and readers) are really going to hesitate with this book. However, I think it's excellent for teens because of how it handles said topic. I'd also say that because of the topic, I think older readers are going to be less drawn to it.

    Great review!

  3. Thank you so much for this review!!! I was worried it would be too preachy and religious like you and I am so happy it is not. I love Jackson's other books and didn't want to avoid her work because of reservations like this. Thanks again!

  4. I think you'd appreciate this, Titania. It has Jackson's style and personality in it, and though it does approach religious questions, it doesn't treat them as if they're the only determining factor - or like there is a right or wrong answer. It's very human and honest-feeling.

    And thanks, Shari! I try to never give spoilers (I hate spoilers!), and focus instead on what would make someone enjoy a book. =)


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