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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, ...
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.
"Shelby's biting, irreverent first-person narration finely blends the humor and pain of her situation...A purely satisfying look at mourning and sexuality — and even their connection."—Kirkus Reviews
"A startlingly authentic picture of a girl in transition on multiple levels...teens will appreciate this thoughtful look at the implications — or lack thereof — of doing the deed."—The Bulletin
"Smart and thought provoking."—Booklist
"A hilarious and heartfelt story about what happens when a teenage girl actually tries to honor all the promises that adults demand from her while staying true to herself. I loved this book."—Jennifer Echols, award-winning author of Endless Summer and Love Story
"Reading Jackson Pearce's Purity feels like talking on the phone with a lively and honest best friend — who is telling it like it is. Shelby reminds us all to be first and foremost true to ourselves. This book is a must-read for anyone thinking about making promises to themselves or others."—Amy Deneson, author and New York Times essayist
When I said it, I didn’t mean it. I just wanted to go home after another long day in the ICU. But then, I didn’t know it was really the end this time.
“Promise me something,” my mom said, her voice cracking, a whisper over the hum of machines that latched onto her body. Sometimes I thought those cords and tubes and electrodes were the only things holding her here. Without them, she’d slip away like a balloon string sliding from a child’s fingers.
I nodded, ignoring the pain in my wrist from grasping her hand over the railing. It was an old pain, a dull ache I’d gotten used to, just like the way my spine begged to be stretched and my lungs longed for air without the scent of rubbing alcohol and gauze. Waiting in a hospital for a few months will do that to a body, I guess—even the body of a ten-year-old.
Mom’s fingers were frail, and her skin seemed too big for the bones underneath. She smiled, pulling at the tape holding a tube into her nose. “Promise me, Shelby, that you’ll do three things. For always, from here on out.” She spoke like this a lot—like it was the end. It used to scare me, but after so many months I’d sort of gotten used to it.
I kissed her palm the way she used to kiss mine when she put me to bed. Back when I let her read me picture books long after I’d lost interest in them just because I could tell how happy it made her.
“Sure,” I said, ignoring my dad at the door. He was giving me the “five minutes” hand gesture in between intense whispers to a nurse.
My mom rubbed my palm with her thumb, then continued. “Three things. Listen to your father, Shel. Love and listen to him.” She paused, and remnants of a laugh laced her voice when she spoke again. “Poor thing doesn’t know what to do with a girl.” She reached up and ran a hand through the tips of my overgrown hair.
“Okay, Mom,” I sighed. “But if this is about that thing with the makeup, it’s not fair. Dad says I can’t wear any.”
My mother shook her head. “I know. It’s not about that. Listen—second thing: Love as much as possible.”
I raised an eyebrow. My mom had always been a dreamer, but this was a little intense even for her.
“Okay, I will,” I said as my dad held up two fingers. “I have to go soon—”
“And last,” she cut me off, her lips trembling a little, like she’d cry if she had the energy, “live without restraint. Do you understand what I mean?”
Not really—I had no clue what she was talking about. One minute left. I stood, leaning over to hug her—she wasn’t much bigger than me, and my arms felt strong around her body. “Sure.”
“I mean it, Shelby. Promise me,” she said as she hugged me back, her voice growing louder than it’d been all summer, desperation on every syllable.
“Okay, Mom,” I said, sincere. “I promise. All three things. I’ll do them.”
My mom relaxed. The nurse walked in to inject her IV with a clear fluid. I unwound my arms from Mom’s body and waved good-bye as my dad took my place by her bed to bid his own farewell. Two tiny tears dripped down Mom’s cheeks; the nurse wiped them away without hesitation.
When I said it, I didn’t mean it. I didn’t know it was really the end. And now… how could I possibly break a promise made to a dying woman?
This thing didn’t seem nearly as high when I looked at it from the ground.
I cringe and sidestep the rusty rails, balancing carefully on the graying wooden planks. The early summer sun glares at me, reflecting up from the lake water. I sink to my knees and scoot toward the edge.
“You can do it, Shelby!” my friend Ruby calls from below, sprawled on the hood of Lucinda, Jonas’s beat-up hatchback. Ruby gives me a thumbs-up and nods emphatically.
“Are you okay?” calls another voice, tinged with worry and concern. Jonas shields his eyes from the sun and tries to look up at me. “You can come down. We can do it another day.”
“This is the fourth time we’ve been out here!” I shout. “I just have to… do it.” I dare to gaze at the water below.
Promise Three: Live without restraint. Hurling oneself off an abandoned railroad trestle into a lake seems stupid more than it does unrestrained, now that I think about it. I know the water is deep enough for the jump—I’ve swum in it a hundred times and watched a half dozen other Ridgebrook students take the plunge. But knowing doesn’t make it any less terrifying.
“Our bodies are our gardens, our wills our gardeners,” Jonas calls.
“What?” I snap back.
“Othello,” Jonas says. He’s read everything Shakespeare ever wrote and memorized half of it. Usually his tendency to throw out quotes isn’t irritating, but when I’m trembling on the edge of a trestle, it’s hard to appreciate dead playwrights.
“It means your will can make your body jump,” Jonas explains.
“Not hardly,” I reply. My body demands I stay put, and is astoundingly persuasive.
Jonas shakes his head. “Hang on, I’m coming up.”
Hanging on is definitely something I’m willing to do. I sit back on the wooden planks and watch Jonas struggle to climb the steep bank that leads up to the railroad tracks. The tracks are long abandoned but sturdy, despite the mountain of kudzu overtaking one side.
“Wait, I want to come!” Ruby shouts, jumping off the car. She nimbly scales the incline, overtaking Jonas, who gets caught in a patch of Carolina jasmine. Ruby giggles as she helps free him, and finally the two maneuver toward me. Jonas huffs as they do so—puberty gave him great hair and skin but took away the wiry athlete’s body he used to have. I think it’s a fair trade, personally—all puberty gave me was what the tactless might call childbearing hips.
“I’m telling you, Shelby, it’s not as bad as you think,” Ruby says, plopping down as if we were only a few feet off the ground. I glance down at the rows of crisscrossed timber that hold the railway—and us—up; they look like a pile of pickup sticks. What if I jump and hit one of those?
Jonas uses my shoulders for balance as he tiptoes around me, staying much farther from the edge. “If you’re going to do it, you should hurry. Your dad said to be back by four,” he reminds me.
“I know,” I sigh, fiddling with the edge of my shorts. Promise One: Love and listen to my father. It’s made me embarrassingly obedient at times—I’ve never missed a “be back by” curfew. It’s also taught me the value of the “If he doesn’t specifically say I can’t do it, I can do it” philosophy.
I gaze across the landscape—mostly trees, bright summery green, but I can make out cars on the bridge across the lake.
Jonas sighs. “Look, the trestle isn’t going anywhere. We’ll come back sometime this summer—”
“Hey, give her a chance,” Ruby cuts in, leaning so far out over the trestle that Jonas gasps. Ruby laughs and swings her multitoned legs off the side—Ruby has that disease that makes your skin lose pigment, but you’d never really know it was a disease with her. Her skin is toffee-colored but dappled with patches of ivory. Up here against the blue sky, it looks like a few puffy clouds have taken refuge on her body.
“Would it help if I jumped with you?” Ruby asks.
“You’re not wearing a bathing suit.”
Ruby shrugs. “Still, would it help?”
I pause. At least this way, I won’t be plummeting to the ground alone. I nod and Ruby leaps to her feet.
“Great,” Jonas mutters. He tugs his shirt off, tossing it to the ground.
“You’re gonna do it, too?” I ask, a grin spreading across my face.
“I can’t be the only one not to,” Jonas says. He rises, then offers me a hand up. Ruby pulls her tank top off, revealing a sparkly pink bra underneath. Jonas rolls his eyes, but even he laughs a little. I hike up the straps of my bathing suit top and look out over the skyline.
“Okay, try to make your body straight like an arrow,” Ruby instructs. “Otherwise it hurts like hell.”
“Fantastic,” Jonas says.
“Ready?” Ruby asks. Jonas wraps his fingers around mine; I reach down and grab Ruby’s as well.
“One,” I say. This is it, Mom. This is for you.
I’m not sure who jumps first, but the next thing I know, the three of us sail through the air, blue sky sliding into green trees toward the lake. This is life without restraint; this is what Mom wanted for me. We release our hands. I’m scared for an instant, then somehow free.
We hit the water. It jets up my nose as I plummet toward the lake’s bottom. I kick off the squishy silt and begin to paddle toward the surface. When I emerge, Jonas and Ruby are already laughing and splashing. I squint up at the trestle and grin.
We swim for a few minutes before heading back to the shore. Jonas opens Lucinda’s hatchback and tosses us all old Mickey Mouse towels. I wrap mine around myself while they retrieve their shirts. Then we climb into the car.
Lucinda is decked out with zebra-print seat covers and a skull in place of the gearshift knob. She’s not exactly a luxury vehicle, but there’s something about her that tells you “Trust me—I’ve made it this far, haven’t I?” Which is why we don’t worry when there’s a loud bang and the check-engine light starts flashing as we rumble along the gravel road.
We arrive at a stop sign, the intersection of the trestle’s tiny road and the main highway. I’m too anxious to wait any longer.
“Where’s my list?” I ask Jonas.
He reaches across my lap and into the glove compartment and retrieves his wallet. He removes a folded-up, floppy paper from the billfold—Life List is penciled across the top in bubbly handwriting.
“You have a pen?” he asks, spreading the ancient piece of paper across the steering wheel.
“You think I’d forget a pen on a cross-off day?” I say, grabbing one from the bottom of my purse. Jonas takes the pen, then runs his finger down the paper until he finds the item he’s looking for. He carefully crosses it out, then hands the list over and eases Lucinda forward.
Life List item one hundred and six: Jump off the Lake Jocassee trestle like Mom did in high school. It was added to the list soon after she died—judging by Jonas’s handwriting, I’d say fifth or sixth grade. It’s right before Put flowers on every grave in a cemetery (haven’t done it yet) and Learn all eighty-eight constellations (accomplished late last year). Jonas loves making lists, and he was the one who’d thought of a Life List to help me keep Promise Three. He’s always been its official keeper since the day he began it in the funeral home while we waited for her service to begin.
When someone you love dies, it feels like the ground is crumbling away, falling into oblivion. The only thing you can do is grab onto all the things closest to you and hold on tight. I grabbed onto the Promises, to Jonas, to God.
The first two were there. The last one I could never find.
“Wait, while you have the list out,” Ruby says from the backseat as she runs her fingers through her wet hair, “I saw this show about a rocket thing that makes you weightless for, like, thirty seconds. So it’s like being in space, only without having to actually go to school and become an astronaut and all that. How badass is that? How many people do you know who get to be weightless?”
I nod. “That’s a good one. Add it,” I say, handing the paper back to Jonas. Ruby usually comes up with the best list suggestions—she started being homeschooled in ninth grade and spends most of her “study” time watching the Discovery Channel.
“I’ll just write down ‘be weightless’ and put the whole rocket thing on the digital copy.” He scribbles in a vacant patch of the paper when we get to a red light. “I need to laminate this or something, or start a new one.”
“No way,” I argue. “That one’s special. It’s got… character.”
“It’s got chocolate syrup stains on it,” Jonas reminds me, making a face. We both know what I mean, though—it’s been six years and over four hundred items, one hundred three of which are now crossed out. You don’t just start fresh when something has that sort of history, even if there are a few stains.
I twist my hair up in a bun and pull on a shirt over my bathing suit as we head to Flying Biscuit, the restaurant where Ruby works. It’s the sort of place with tacky tablecloths and a mostly tattooed staff where every menu item has a clever name. I liked it even before Ruby worked here. It’s, like, this little mecca of weird in the middle of a pretty-straitlaced town.
Jonas and I sit down in our usual booth, and Ruby, even though she isn’t working, ducks into the kitchen to get us drinks.
“What’s the next list item?” Jonas says, spinning his silverware on the table.
I shrug. “I want to get three or four done this summer, though.”
He looks up at me and raises his eyebrows. “That’s ambitious.”
“You don’t think I can do it?”
“I think you can do it. I’m just wondering what I’ll end up doing because of it. I’m still not on board with the skydiving one,” he says, but he’s grinning. Ruby returns with drinks—she’s filled her Coke with maraschino cherries and grenadine.
“Why’s it so crowded here?” Jonas asks, glancing around—the place is never exactly packed, but more tables than normal are filled.
“Sunday,” Ruby says with a shrug. “Lunch church crowd.”
“Ah, of course,” Jonas says, nodding. He’s half Jewish, half atheist—I have no idea how that works, exactly, but it seems to. Ruby stopped going to church ages ago, and I finally bowed out a few years back, when I realized I wasn’t getting anything but nauseated listening to a pastor talk about God’s plan. It’s not exactly heartwarming to hear that the guy you’re supposed to be worshipping planned all along for your mom to die.
I look around at the families who had likely come from church—adorable family units with two parents and a few kids, all with hair ribbons and tights. I wonder whether they’d break as easily as our family did if you removed the mother from the picture.
“Shelby?” Ruby says.
“You’re staring at that kid. It’s freaky. Almost as freaky as that tie he’s wearing. What kind of parent loops a noose around their kid’s neck and calls it fashionable?” Ruby says disdainfully.
“That’s why Jonas doesn’t wear ties,” I say, turning back to them. “He’s afraid he’ll accidentally hang himself.”
“That’s so not true,” Jonas argues. “I’m not afraid I’ll hang myself. I’m afraid it’ll get caught in a door or a motor or a car wheel.”
I snicker and Ruby raises her eyebrows.
“What?” Jonas asks, his voice rising. “It happens! It happened to Isadora Duncan!”
“Who?” I ask.
“She was this famous dancer in the twenties. She was wearing a big, long scarf, and it got caught in her car tires. And her neck broke. I don’t want my obituary to read ‘death by tie,’ thanks. Don’t laugh at me, Ruby,” Jonas says.
“Oh, no, I’m not laughing at you for the tie thing anymore. Now I’m laughing at you for knowing about twenties dance stars.”
“Shelby?” Jonas asks, waiting for me to choose a side.
“I…” I grin, looking from one to the other. “I have to side with Jonas on this one. It’s history. Important, safety-themed history.”
“Ha,” Jonas says, tilting his chin at Ruby mockingly.
“Yeah, yeah, she just sides with you because she’s known you longer. You have seniority,” Ruby says, laughing.
Not much longer, but longer. I didn’t meet Ruby until after Mom died, whereas I met Jonas in kindergarten. Sometimes it feels like Jonas knows everything about where I’ve come from but Ruby knows everything about where I’m going. I suspect, between the two of them, they know me better than I do.
“I can eat four today, I think,” Ruby says as a giant plate of biscuits is delivered.
“Five,” Jonas says, raising his eyebrows. They look at me.
“Four. Maybe. I suck at this,” I answer.
“You’ve just got to learn to keep chewing even after you’ve had so many they don’t taste good. It’s all about commitment,” Jonas says, looking at Ruby as if they’re about to drag race each other.
“Ready, set, go.”
Ruby won the biscuit contest—she ate six. She almost always wins, but that doesn’t stop Jonas from competing. And I was right; as delicious as Flying Biscuit’s biscuits are, I just can’t force them down after the third one. After we wallowed in overfull agony for a while, we head back to my house. My hair is mostly dry and signs of the lake trip are few and far between, thankfully. It’s not that I don’t want Dad to know I went to the lake; it’s that Dad’s knowing what I do occasionally leads to questions, which occasionally lead to statements like “Don’t do that again,” which I can’t brush off because of Promise One: Love and listen to my father. Promise One means no disobeying, which means my life is a thousand times easier when I just keep Dad in the dark.
“Who’s that?” Ruby asks as we pull up to my house. There’s a tan car in the driveway.
“I don’t know,” I say, shrugging. “Probably a committee person. Come in with me. I don’t want to get stuck in the small-talk loop.”
“Committee people” are the only people who visit my house. My dad doesn’t really have friends, exactly—he has fellow board members. Volunteers. Since Mom died, he’s been on just about every panel and committee and board that the community has to offer. He says he does it because all the volunteering that people did after Mom died helped him—and he’s right, there’s something innately therapeutic about an endless stream of casseroles. But I think he really does it because he wants to be out of the house. The more time he gives to the community, the less time he has to think about the family that broke in his hands.
Jonas parks the car and we walk to the house, crushing the dandelions that occupy more space on our lawn than actual grass. I push the front door open. My dad is sitting at the dining room table, which is covered in thick stacks of pink-and-gold paper. In the chair beside him is a man I vaguely recognize—one of the pastors from a nearby church.
“Shelby!” the pastor says. I just smile because I don’t remember his name. “We were wondering when you’d get back. We’d love to get your thoughts on the Princess Ball while we’re still in the planning stages. The church is the lead sponsor this year. We’re really excited about it.”
Ah, the Princess Ball. A father-daughter dance and a Ridgebrook tradition—well, sort of. It used to be huge, but now only a fraction of the girls at school go, always the summer before senior year. I figured I’d skip it, since attending a ball with Dad seems like a contender for a Top Ten Awkward Moments list. Apparently, Dad’s awkward radar isn’t as accurate as mine.
“Here,” Dad says, handing me a pink-and-gold pamphlet. It clashes with the faded wallpaper in our dining room. On the cover is a young girl looking lovingly up at a graying model of a man, the kind who’s on shaving-cream commercials.
“Your dad has offered to coordinate all the events, and the decorating committee is already throwing around ideas,” the pastor says, smiling. The way he says the word events makes it seem like it could be either a carnival or a beheading. I rub the glossy paper between my fingers for a moment.
“Um… okay…” I answer cautiously—obviously, I’m going to try to get out of going. I don’t want to get Dad’s hopes up by appearing excited. Ruby and Jonas shift behind me.
Dad opens his mouth, but words don’t come as easily as they did for the pastor. He hesitates. “Great. Great. It’ll be fun.” He pauses for a long time. “Where were you this morning?” Damn. He almost never asks where I’ve been.
“We were just swimming,” Jonas says, stepping in quickly. If he tells Dad, then if Dad says “Don’t do that again,” it means it’s directed at Jonas, not me. Unless he makes it “Don’t do that again, Shelby.” Yeah, that’s a loophole, but Jonas and I decided long ago that when it comes to the Promises, loopholes are nothing to shy away from.
“Oh. Fun,” Dad says, sounding a bit confused. He turns back to the pastor. “Well, we’ll touch base again in a few weeks?”
“Sounds great, Doug. See you then. Bye, Shelby!”
“Bye… um… sir.” Jonas says you can never go wrong calling adults “ma’am” or “sir.” Ruby says you can never go wrong calling someone “baby.” I think, in this case, Jonas is right.
The pastor leaves, so I make a break for my bedroom, Ruby and Jonas behind me. We shut the door. Ruby and I slump onto the bed while Jonas takes my desk chair after delicately tipping a pile of clothes off it.
“Are you going to the Princess Ball?” I ask Ruby.
She laughs and raises her eyebrows at me. “Seriously? Me? One, I don’t wear pantyhose, and I’m pretty sure Princess Ball security checks that at the door. And secondly, can you imagine my dad at that thing? I don’t think he even owns a suit. I don’t think he even owns a button-down shirt, come to think of it.”
“Let me see it,” Jonas says, reaching out for the pamphlet. I hand it over.
“Who does go to it now, anyway?” Ruby asks.
“I think the church’s youth group. Some people from school still go, too. I don’t really know,” I say, pausing. “My mom went.”
“Really?” Ruby says.
“Yeah. Somewhere we’ve got a picture of her at it in a dress with puffy sleeves. It’s pretty eighties-tastic.”
“You’re all supposed to wear white. Or, at least, it’s advised,” Jonas says, pointing to the pamphlet. “Though looks like the puffy sleeves are optional.” He folds down one side and continues to read the back. Ruby stretches for my hairbrush and runs it through her hair.
“You make vows at this thing?” Jonas says.
“Vows? No, nothing that serious. I think you’re supposed to, like… learn to be close or to respect each other or to only fight on Tuesday nights or something. Not really sure how a ball teaches you that, but—”
“No, Shel—you take vows. It says so on the back,” Jonas says, looking serious.
I rise and go to my desk, sitting on the edge while Jonas holds the pamphlet out for me to see. On the back, right above the logos of all the Princess Ball sponsors—the church’s the largest and centered—are three sentences in a swirly font that’s hard to read.
After a night of dinner and dancing, the Princess Ball concludes with a ceremony:
Fathers will vow to be strong, responsible men of integrity and to play a central role in their daughters’ lives.
Daughters will vow to look to their fathers for guidance and to live whole, pure lives.
Okay, no big deal—looking to your father for guidance, that’s pretty similar to Promise One anyway. But living a pure life? What does that mean? I snatch the pamphlet away from Jonas and flip it over, looking for some sort of code or glossary. Nothing.
And it’s the complete lack of explanation that makes me realize exactly what pure means.
“Sex. That’s what they mean, right? I promise Dad I won’t have sex,” I say flatly.
“Looks like it. I guess if the church is the lead sponsor, they can throw some antisex stuff into the ball.”
“So what do I do?” I ask, my voice rising. “I can’t vow something to Dad. I’ll have to keep it or I break Promise One.”
“Just talk him out of it soon—tonight, before he can get too excited about it. That’s all you can do, unless you… I mean, you could take the vow….” Jonas says.
“I don’t want to vow anything that has to do with my lady parts,” I answer quickly. The idea makes me shiver, which sends Ruby into a giggling fit. I look at the happy father-daughter couple on the cover. Dad and I could never be like that anyhow.
“I wouldn’t worry about it. Your dad has never put up much of a fight before,” Ruby adds. “And besides, you’re not the only daughter who isn’t going to be into this thing. Not to mention that half a zillion girls in this town have no purity left to promise.” Ruby snickers, shaking her head.
“Very true,” Jonas says. Some of the girls at the church who go to Ridgebrook with Jonas and me have reputations that rival porn stars’. I’m sure a lot of it is just talk, but a few have the hickeys and—rumor has it—the herpes to prove it.
We make fun of the pamphlet for a while, wondering who chose the stock art image of the father and daughter on the front and imagining it’s really an ad for something funnier, like laxatives or juniors’ push-up bras. I walk them out, then turn to sigh at the table covered with Princess Ball paperwork. This is a problem. I’ve got to solve it tonight.
The doorbell rings an hour later—pizza-delivery guy, as per usual on a Sunday night. It’s a little later than normal, I guess because Dad got caught up in the Princess Ball planning. He seems to be feeling the effects of the slight change in schedule when I join him in the kitchen. Two hours later than normal throws a wrench in his love of total, constant order.
I guess that’s the only other way Dad and I are alike—when the world fell into oblivion, he grabbed onto something, too: predictability. He’s a computer programmer, a job that involves ties and coats and routines of waking up, going to bed, eating the same food, and not daring to have a conversation with me that we haven’t rehearsed a thousand times before. Keep things the same so the world can’t slip away again.
We fill our plates with pizza, then slide into beaten kitchen chairs. Dad immediately picks up the most recent issue of Popular Mechanics while I flip on the tiny, sauce-spattered kitchen television.
I run a fingertip along the floral pattern at my plate’s edge, trying to muster up the courage to break the routine and talk about the Princess Ball. I glance in Dad’s direction as he nods in agreement with whatever science-tastic article he’s reading. He folds a slice of pizza in half and takes an enormous bite. Table manners are not his specialty. It’s a good thing he doesn’t date.
Doesn’t date anymore, rather. At his sister’s request, he tried, three whole times, but it didn’t go well. I know not because he told me, but because I can pick up a phone receiver and listen in with ninjalike silence—specifically, when Dad called my spastic aunt Kaycee to tell her how the dates went.
Date number one: Told the woman he thought she looked beautiful because “most women are just way too thin these days, but not you!” I believe this was followed by some sort of incident involving dinner rolls.
Date number two: Admitted to having a teenage daughter only a few moments in. Painful for me to hear, but I’m not stupid. Single men with babies reel in women. Single men with teenagers are lady repellent.
Date number three: Wasn’t really his fault, but Dad accidentally ate shellfish. He swelled up so fast that he had to be taken away in an ambulance. It’s hard to be romantic when your tongue has swelled to the size of an elephant’s trunk.
After the third date, he reported to his sister that, clearly, he was cursed. I doubt he would have continued dating even if things had gone perfectly. As far as my father is concerned, my mom was the only woman for him. He loved her brand of disorder: shoes in the middle of the floor, cookies she snatched from the oven before they were done, oldies music she played so loud the neighbors complained, nighttime fairy tales with endings she changed to make them more interesting for me….
But despite my dad’s addiction to order, I have to do something unexpected tonight—speak over dinner. I turn down the TV as soon as the show goes to commercial. Nip it in the bud, before he gets too invested in the idea.
“So, I wanted to talk to you about this Princess Ball thing,” I say.
Dad looks up at me, confused. I’m not sure I’ve ever uttered the phrase “I wanted to talk to you” to him.
“Sure, what about it?” he asks.
“Well, is it… um… required?” I ask.
“Well, it is a tradition… oh, and speaking of…” Dad rustles around in the leather briefcase he always carries with him—I privately call it a man-purse. “We each have one of these to fill out.” He hands me a packet.
I read the letters splayed across the top:
“They’re personal questions. I don’t know what your packet asks…. We’re supposed to go over them together closer to the ball….” My dad trails off and the room fills with an awkward silence. “There’s no right or wrong answer, though.” He says that, but whenever your parents are involved, there’s a right and a wrong answer. Especially with my dad.
I inhale and continue. “So… I mean, you’re sure about this? Did you see on the back that this year it involves… vows?”
“Oh, the vows—yes, the committee thought it’d be nice to end with a little more ceremony than in years past. All the fathers and daughters recite vows after the last dance.”
So it is out loud. Which means it’s definitely official—Promise One is in effect.
“I mean, it just seems like an awful lot to plan, for one? And this packet… I’ve got finals…. I don’t know if I’ll be much help.” I don’t mention the fact that finals will go on for only another three days.
“It is a lot to plan, true! Especially since we only have five weeks—”
“Five weeks?” I snap, causing Dad to jump.
“Of course. It’s smack in the middle of summer. Always has been—I thought you knew. And last year’s committee really left us hanging. Luckily the church is donating their events room for the actual dance, so that’s taken care of, but none of the other events have been set up.”
Events? There are events at these things? I try another approach. “Sure, sure. But maybe the planning and… um… attending… should be done by someone who actually likes this sort of thing? I didn’t even go to homecoming.”
“You went that one year,” he says.
“That was a winter formal. I only went because Jonas’s mom said he had to go, so we went together.”
“Oh. Well, this is a different sort of thing,” Dad says.
I didn’t want it to come to this, but it’s time to break out the sure shot. The winning topic. The one discussion guaranteed to gets fathers everywhere to shut down and shut up.
“So, these vows… how do they work?”
Excerpted from Purity by Pearce, Jackson Copyright © 2012 by Pearce, Jackson. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted June 11, 2012
Shelby Crewe made three promises to her dying mother. To always listen to her dad, to love as much as possible and to live her life without limits. She has spent the six years since making good on those promises, especially the last promise. But there's a problem. If she always listens to her dad, she can't live without limits. So Shelby has a "loophole" system. If her dad isn't specific about a rule, she can work around it. When Shelby's dad signs them up for the annual Princess Ball that will force her to make a vow of purity until marriage, Shelby only has one way around it. She must lose her purity before taking the vow. That decision sets Shelby up on a quest to find the right guy to give her virginity to, but she also discovers what she's lost in her single-minded goal of fulfilling her mother's wishes.
PURITY was not what I expected. I thought the story would be more of a closer look at Purity (or Princess) Balls. A cautionary tale of what happens when you let a group decide what's best for you and your body. For those who may not know, a purity ball consists of several vows, among those, vowing your "purity" to your father. I for one, think that's creepy. But honestly, while the question of the vow does play a big part in the story, I found the heart of PURITY to be Shelby's relationships.
While Shelby's mother asked her to keep the promises to her father to help them remain close, it actually caused a distance between them. I went into the story sure that I would dislike Shelby's dad. He does sign her up for a purity ball, after all. But as the story unfolded, I began to realize that he is simply lacking direction. He's not a bad guy at all, simply misguided. Shelby is a girl with strong conviction. Even if she's not sure that her decision is the best, she will follow through, no matter what. She is incredulous every step of the way, even questioning the pastor as to why boys don't have "Prince Balls". And I admire that Shelby wasn't afraid to stand up for herself and her body. Shelby's friends, Ruby and Jonas were simply brilliant. Ruby was a riot, a great relief for the drama. She continually pulled through for Shelby when needed. Jonas was Shelby's compass. He was always there, no matter if he thought Shelby was wrong. I enjoyed seeing their friendship unfold in new ways.
PURITY is a funny, thought-provoking story. I was charmed from the opening lines, and read it in only a few hours. I was surprised by the development of the story. OH! I can't go without saying: If you love the movie Sixteen Candles, you will love last few chapters of PURITY. Maybe it was just me, but I felt a "Jake Ryan standing at his car after the church" moment. If nothing else, that should seal the deal for some of you!
(A funny moment when a friend was describing the sexual status of the HS band.)
" 'I'd also say most of the horn line has played the game, and the majority of the horn line has gone hot and heavy with a girl or two - usually from the woodwind section. People always figure it's the color guard, but seriously, it's the woodwinds you've got to look out for.' " (pg.47)
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Posted April 24, 2012
The whole idea of a book based on enforced purity and chastity was something that really interested me when I first heard about Jackson Pearce's new contemporary YA, Purity. This is an idea I can relaly relate to, having grown up in the Christian church and hearing about the importance of sexual purity; so I was REALLY curious to see what Jackson would do with this.
And I was in no way disappointed. Purity is so much deeper and more complex than it seems at first glance; it raises a multitude of fantastic questions and is a fantastic representation of how moving and influential contemporary YA can be.
Reasons to Read:
1.Real life application:
Like I mentioned above, Purity brings up some really great questions. But more so than just this, these are applicable questions, ones that just about every teen has asked at some point. Shelby tackles everyting from grief, losing a loved one, promises, love and friendships, sex, and religion. And THAT is no easy task, especially to tackle ALL IN ONE BOOK. I expected this to be a light, humorous read. There's some humour, and it's a shorter book. But no, I wouldn't classify it as "light" reading. By the end of Purity I had totally teared up.
2.There is no black and white:
Nothing is that simple in Purity, as Shelby discovers. Grieving isn't simple. Sex isn't as complicated as one things, nor is it as unattached. Religion and faith are two different things, and they aren't as straightforward as anyone thinks. And THAT'S what I really love about Purity; it doesn't come off preachy in any way. I tend to be wary of books that are both too preachy or that openly mock faith and I had my concerns with this one. Needless to say, I think this is one that finds that balance and does so very, very well.
I love a book that can make a joke, and this kind of wit that makes you laugh just abounds in Purity! And the characters definitely have this nailed (as does Jackson, seeing as she's the author and all that jazz). This adds a whole other aspect to the book, making it an extremely dynamic and multidimensional read.
Needless to say, I was totally overwhelmed and impressed with Jackson's debut into the contemporary YA world. This is a fantastic read that I think is going to be a hit with most readers, and one that is certainly going to raise some questions and conversations for its readers.
ARC received from HBG Canada for review.
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Posted January 4, 2014
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Posted May 5, 2013
I love this book. It was a very good read and gave me something to think about as I continue through highschool. I highly recommend it for people who question the decisions they have to make as they continue on with their lives.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 14, 2013
I wasn't sure about Purity when I first started reading it. I bounce back between really enjoying it and down right hating it, in the end my opinion falls somewhere in the middle.
I sympathized with the main character of Shelby right away and I liked her quite a lot. Though she does some things I found annoying or immature, I respected her for wanting to honor her mother and father's wishes while still trying to be her own person.
For people who are worried this book is just about a girl who bashes religion, I would like to say I didn't find it that way at all. Its much more about how Shelby wishes she had something like religion to have faith in; something that is always there for her no matter what, something she never questions. Unfortunately after her mother's death she doesn't find that religion does that for her anymore. The novel is about her journey to accept the things she can't change. To find faith and understanding in herself.
Anyways, while I obviously enjoyed the honesty and heart in Jackson Pearce's novel I had a harder time with its predictability. I felt that after about 20 or 30 pages you already knew how the novel was going to end and that doesn't change. Some of the supporting characters feel flat for me as well. I do think the novel could be helpful to younger teens who are trying to deal with loss or thinking of losing their virginity.
Posted August 23, 2012
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Posted May 29, 2012
When I first picked up Purity, I didn’t even read the synopsis, so you can say it is another book I picked up for its cover. However when I did read the synopsis, I was a bit put off. A girl is trying to lose her virginity because of a promise she made to her deceased mother many years back? The whole plot felt absurd, HOWEVER it was delivered with tons of humor. Which is why, while the topic of Purity made me a bit uncomfortable, overall it was enjoyable because the author went for the light, funny dialogue, which is always a plus for me.
Shelby, the main protagonist made a promise to her mom that she would 1. Listen to everything her father says, 2. Love as much as possible, and 3. Live without restraint. Many years later, you see that Shelby has taken those three promises as her bible. She lives her life following these three rules, especially the first one, and the last. The problem arises when she has to go to a dance where she has to make vows to stay pure, and this is where Shelby has to find a loophole to obey her father (go to the dance) while at the same time NOT make those vows because that is not ‘living without restraint’.
Throughout the book, with the help of her two bestfriends, Jonas and Ruby, she makes a list of all the eligible guys, and tries her luck with each of them. However in the end she goes through a big revelation of who her true love is. Now, I saw that coming miles away, actually ever since the character she ‘loves’, at the end of the book, was introduced. Also, it happened in the last couple of pages of the book so the ending felt too rushed for my liking and a bit too clichéd. I wished that the too much unnecessary details and side characters of the story had less pages dedicated to them and more pages dedicated to her figuring out WHAT she was looking for all this time. However, All in all, purity was an enjoyable read, while a bit too generic, is a cute contemporary to anyone looking for something light to read.
Posted April 27, 2012
Reviewed by Alice D. for Readers Favorite
Shelby Crewe's mother dies tragically of breast cancer which has traumatized both Shelby and her father as death frequently does. But before she dies, Shelby's mother makes Shelby promise that 1) She must listen to her father, 2) She must love as much as possible, and 3) She must live without restraint. Shelby tries so very hard to live by her mother's wishes, but now as the Princess Ball approaches and Shelby's father is busy working on its preparations, Shelby is concerned. She really doesn't want to go to the Princess Ball and wear a fancy ball gown. She'd rather hang out with her friends Ruby and Jonas and she's really, really put off by the purity pledge that she will be taking at the ball. So what will Shelby do? And could this Princess Ball that her own mother attended years before bring her closer to her father?
Author Jackson Pearce has created in "Purity" a well-written, well-edited and totally believable coming of age story for teenagers. Shelby's attempts to keep promises that she made to her dying mother five years before and how she deals with her interpretation of these promises is perfectly "teenager" stuff. The characters are three-dimensional and make the storyline alive. The scenes with Shelby shopping for a prom gown with her eccentric aunt are filled with humor. Readers will love how Shelby has Ruby redo the prom gown she finally selects. Jonas and Shelby's eventual coming together is an example of writing at its very best. "Purity" is a first-rate read for teenagers and those who recall their teenage years well.
Posted April 24, 2012
Purity was an amazing look into what a person does to honor someone they love. IT was hilarious and heartbreaking rolled into one; just how I like my contemporary novels. This is a first for Jackson Pearce, and based on this, I hope she has more contemporary books lying in wait!
Shelby deals with such a heart-wrenching situation the only way she knows how: following the Promises. These Promises are the only things she feels will keep her connected to her mother, and she lives her life by them. This idea is something that a reader can relate to, even if they've never lost someone because of the all-consuming way Pearce has written the story. There is no Shelby without the Promises, and you really feel that through the story.
As with any contemporary, characters are crucial, and Pearce does an amazing job crafting her's. Shelby is a great protagonist to go on this journey with, but I have to say my favorite character is Jonas. He is Shelby's best friend and partner in the Promises. He keeps the list for her, he supports her, and he loves her. If there are no Shelby with the Promises, there is also no Shelby with Jonas. My other favorite character is Shelby's dad. In ways he reminds me of my dad, and that makes the strained relationship between Shelby and him even that more painful to read.
The themes explored within the novel are summed up in the tagline: love, loss, and sex. No light reading here. The issues of virginity, purity, and belief are mixed together as Shelby tries to discover what she believes and feels. Spirituality plays an important role within the book, and I think the way this is handled is really great. There are all aspects of belief represented: non-belief, required belief, true belief. I just really love when authors represent religion and spirituality in a realistic and true way. I don't think the book would be the same without this either!
The final part I have to talk about is the writing! I knew Pearce was an amazing writer from her three previous books, but the humor she puts into all her writing made this one unforgettable. When dealing with such heavy issues people seem to think it's all tears and torture, but in my experience there is a ton of laughter and sarcasm. That is what she brings to the table. I laughed so hard at certain parts, it was a much needed counter point to the intense problems going on; a balancing act not many can pull off.
Jackson Pearce yet again blows it out of the park, making Purity is a must read! The book hits stores TODAY so go grab a copy. Trust me, you'll want re-read as soon as you're done!