Book Reviews

[review] Purity – Jackson Pearce

Release Date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Age Group: Young Adult
Pages: 218
Format: Hardcover
Source: ARC received from publisher

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.

Tell Me More: There are some books that becomes so precious to me that I can barely string two words together about how much I love them. I keep them hidden in my mind and soul, turning them over and over and always finding something new. I grow afraid of telling other people about them because they may not understand and it would be physically painful to watch them lose interest in the story. Purity is only the second book of the year to do that to me, with The Fault in Our Stars as its only rival for Angel’s Favourite Book of 2012. I realize that may seem like an impossible comparison, but both of these stories connected to me in ways I’m still discovering every day. They have also challenged me to find the words I need to express those discoveries, and the effects they’ve had on my life.

I am religious. I believe in God, in Jesus, in Mary, in the spirit of the church that I belong to. But I’m also 23 years old and I’ve never lost someone dear to me, nor have I ever had to make the Promises Shelby makes to her mother. Despite the myriad differences between Shelby and I, it isn’t difficult for me to understand the crisis she undergoes in the novel, and the choices she makes because of it. I know things eventually get better, but Shelby doesn’t, at least not yet. Jackson Pearce has created a painfully real character in Shelby, and the story is lit up by her powerful spirit.

In analyzing Shelby and her journey, I found myself turning back to my notes on Gabriel Marcel from senior year’s Philosophy of Religion class. Much of the novel is spent on Shelby’s personal challenge–how can she keep her Promises without having to make a vow of purity?–but there are poignant and beautifully written moments where she curls in on herself and admits her uncertainty about everything.

How is it possible that God understands what’s best for me, what I should or shouldn’t do, if he isn’t human? If he hasn’t loved someone, hasn’t lost someone, hasn’t wanted someone?

How indeed. Is it fair for God to ask us to follow Him when He doesn’t have to deal with the double standards that women are held to? Is it fair for God to say what’s right and what’s wrong and what’s fair when He isn’t the one watching mothers die? Gabriel Marcel studied these questions and ultimately dismissed them. To Marcel, an understanding of God and the things He does or does not do comes from our experiences with other people. Shelby’s questions are to be expected from a girl who’s lost something very dear, and it’s the people around her that comprise her faith, not an invisible (at least to her) God.

Beyond anything else, I want to commend Jackson Pearce for taking on those inner conflicts and being fair and honest in her writing. As I read Purity, I had to turn off my instinctual disagreement when she expressed her doubts in God, because it’s not something I have a right to feel uncomfortable with. I may have a strong faith, and I may know my own mind, but Shelby is still working her way to that kind of certainty. She is selfish, she is reckless, she doesn’t make the best choices and she isn’t always honest about it either. But I dare anyone to say that she’s a bad person just because she struggles with the idea of God and purity.

It was extremely satisfying to see the topic of sex and virtue be held up to scrutiny, especially in light of the laws being passed in the United States. Girls need to know that there are people they can talk to and places they can go to consider their choices, whether it’s a church or counseling offices or just their own homes. Like Shelby, so much of what girls endure daily isn’t upfront, but under the surface, making them doubt themselves. Personally, I’ve always questioned the right of the church to dictate what I can do with my body, because they’ve never actually asked how women feel about those rules. Purity is a great way to start that dialogue with the girls in your life and let them know that they have agency and power over their body.

Lastly, I was pleased with the way love was brought gently, softly into the story. Shelby’s two best friends may be the foil to her father’s distance, but I never once doubted that she was surrounded by people who loved her. Like many of us, Shelby struggles with that belief–it was heartbreaking watching her doubt herself.  With chapters that detail exactly how Shelby comes to see her own worth and the importance of loving those who have been there for her every broken step of the way, Purity shines. 

The Final Say: I couldn’t have asked for a stronger character or a more beautiful story. Purity is a book I will put away on a beloved shelf to give to my future daughter.

About Jackson

Jackson Pearce currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia, with a slightly cross-eyed cat and a lot of secondhand furniture. She recently graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in English and a minor in Philosophy and currently works for a software company even though she auditioned for the circus (she juggled and twirled fire batons, but they still didn’t want her). Other jobs she’s had include obituaries writer, biker bar waitress, and receptionist.

Add Purity on Goodreads | Follow Jackson on Twitter @jacksonpearce | Visit Jackson’s website | Order Purity from The Book Depository and Chapters

5 replies »

  1. What an insightful and powerful review! I hope that when my copy arrives that I enjoy it as much as you did :)

  2. I love this review! Everything you say is absolutely true. I didn’t have exactly the same experience with the novel because we haven’t had exactly the same life experiences, but I think that’s what makes it such a great novel (and also what’s so great about reading).

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