by Jackson Pearce
Original publication date: April 24, 2012
Length: 218 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown books for Young Readers
Obtained Via: Bought
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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 surprised by Purity. I approached this book with trepidation because while I was quite intrigued by the premise and the summary, I was also a little worried. I mean, I think most would agree that this is not a great reason to have sex. And at first, I was a little annoyed at Shelby’s strict adherence to her promises. I’m all for keeping promises, but I definitely rolled my eyes a little because the way she interpreted rules and loopholes seemed SO convoluted. And it was. But if I had lost my mother at ten instead of at sixteen, and had promised these things, would I have interpreted them in the same way? I have to admit there’s a really good chance I might have.
Despite her youth, I found I REALLY loved Shelby’s narrative. I just really saw a lot of myself in a younger Shelby. Of course, we’ve both lost our mothers, so it was a pretty easy connection there, but even with Shelby’s thoughts, her doubts, all of it. . . I felt like I got it. Shelby gets to grapple with her faith, or lack thereof, quite a bit considering how short this book really is. Those were a lot of the same things *I* wrestled with as a teenager, and even though Shelby and I may have come to different conclusions, there was something overwhelmingly refreshing about reading a book with a main character who had those concerns.
I didn’t expect Purity to go so deep with Shelby’s emotional arc, but I’m really grateful that it did. There were times I definitely teared up throughout the book: a few parts where Shelby’s wrestling with some big questions and her doubts, but mainly some of the scenes with Shelby and her father. Before the Princess ball, Shelby and her dad don’t really know each other that well. It was Shelby’s mom that held them together as a family, and while they love each other, they don’t really know how to relate to each other. There are a few really heart-warming scenes through Purity where the two of them get to know each other better.
While I kept thinking the whole “have-sex-just-to-get-out-of-the-vow” thing was definitely *not* the best decision Shelby could make, as the book went on I found myself gaining sympathy for her. The promises are so, so important to her because they’re her mom’s legacy and I get that. I never got fully on-board with Shelby’s plan, but I came to a point where I could sympathize for her and want the best for her–which I realize makes me sound like an adult talking about a teenager, but hey, at some point it’s true.
And was I personally pleased with many of Shelby’s decisions in Purity? No. But people, teenagers and not, make decisions I’m not pleased with all the time, and those have a place in fiction as well. I think Shelby had sex for a rather weak reason. And some people, teenagers and adults a like, do things for really awful reasons sometimes. So I was more concerned with the narrative tone of Shelby’s choices than her actual choices. And in the end, I thought Purity was a really thoughtful exploration of, as the synopsis says–love, loss, and sex. To that, I’d add it’s also an exploration of family, faith, and life.
I understand why Purity may not be a book for many readers. Subjects like faith and sex can be tricky, even in fiction. They can so easily sound preachy or agenda-driven, but Purity never read that way to me. I feel like Shelby made mistakes, came to some serious conclusions, and had her conceptions challenged–in other words, she felt real. Present-day me would totally want to give Shelby a hug and tell her that things would be all right–which would be exactly the kind of trite saying she would hate. 4/5 cupcakes.