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.
Some young adult novels are straightforward with their premise. For example, by looking at the title, cover, and synopsis of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares, one can infer that it’s a sweet story about friendship and awesome pants. Others, like Purity, leave the reader wondering what the book will be like: is this going to be a serious and sad novel? Will the author leave me thinking deep thoughts, or just throw me a fluffy storyline with heavy themes merely sprinkled throughout the story, almost as though they are afterthoughts? Pearce’s story tried to be deep and still have a sweet story, and although I appreciated the effort and fast pace that Purity offered, it failed to live up to my expectations.
Ever since the death of her mother five years ago, Shelby has struggled with her religious faith. Honestly? This is the most well-done part of the novel. Although I prefer not to dive deeply into personal details on the blog, I spent a lot of time contemplating my faith and asking myself questions about it, and Shelby’s questions reminded me a lot of my own experience. There are times when a story is so predictable and familiar that it’s eye-rolling, and others when it’s so predictable and familiar that it allows the reader to relate to the character and forge a true bond with the character. The latter is definitely what I experienced while reading this part of Shelby’s story.
Of course, being a novel about a girl trying to lose her virginity, Purity also spends a lot of time dealing with sex. S-E-X. Sex, sex, sex. If you’re wondering why that was necessary, it’s because at one point or another, Shelby thinks about pretty much every character in this book doing the deed (or however you like to think of it). As you can guess, topics of slut-shaming and judgment are briefly addressed. Are these passages relevant to Shelby thinking about her mother’s death? Yes. Are they done in a way that’s particularly striking or poignant? No, not really. While the writing here isn’t bad, it felt unoriginal, like something I’d read before.
Nothing about this book leaves me more conflicted than the character of Jonas. Jonas’s character wasn’t what I initially thought it would be, but I still figured out what was going to happen between Shelby and him by the end of the novel. I was not pleased with how Pearce ended this element of the story. On the one hand, the character I thought Jonas was going to be would have been a major stereotype, even thought it might have made for a more interesting story. On the other hand, as it stands, Jonas’s role in this story turns this book too saccharine and generic for me. It also felt as though Pearce tried so hard to make Jonas’s car Lucinda into a distinct character that Jonas himself nearly got overlooked. This is my first foray into Pearce’s work and I’m left feeling very disappointed by this characterization.
Purity is not an awful book. Some readers will enjoy the sweet storyline, whereas others will viciously throw it across the room when they read about how Shelby questions her religion. Despite falling somewhat towards the former end of this spectrum, I can’t help thinking of what could have been. What if Jackson had tried an edgier ending that didn’t feel like it could be tacked on to the end of a ‘90s high school rom com? What if Jonas’s character was totally different, not there, or replaced by someone else entirely? Pearce’s contemporary debut, along with reviews of her other work, leave me wary and wondering if every single one of her books will feel generic to me, or if this was just a fluke.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.