Giles, Lamar. Not So Pure and Simple. Harper Teen, 2020. 389p. ISBN: 9780062349194. $17.99. HS, OT *****
Del Rainey has wanted Kiera Westing for as long as he can remember. He’s sitting in church, daydreaming about her and how she is single for the first time in years instead of listening to what’s happening at the altar. When he sees her standing there next to the preacher asking if any other young people want to join the group, Del decides on the spot that it’s time to take his shot. He walks to the altar to a mix of applause and surprised faces only to realize what he has signed up for is a purity pledge. Pledging to remain pure is an unexpected tactic for a guy trying to get with the girl of his dreams. But Del isn’t going to let this opportunity to get close to Kiera and spend time together go by. Now he just has to figure out how to turn the least romantic activity ever into a romance for the ages.
I loved this book! It is the story of a young male protagonist discovering his own toxic masculinity and reckoning with it. Dell straddles the world of his mother’s church, First Missionary Baptist, and his more stereotypical high school. He and his best friend have reputations as players which puts him at odds with his Purity Pledge cohort and he is the only kid from his church in the mainstream sex ed class at school. Using trademark teen logic, Del doesn’t seem to realize that pledging to remain a virgin probably is not a great way to get with a girl who has just made the same declaration. What could have devolved into annoying illogic, instead becomes a candid first-hand accounting of how young men can wake up and choose to be different. Del manages to uncover the individual and systemic underpinnings of his bad decision with the help of some friends and caring grown-ups in a story that is refreshingly candid and positive.
Giles has written an #ownvoices book about the African American experience coming of age in a contemporary Baptist family, filling it with a diverse ensemble cast of supporting characters including a gay friend who has been ostracized by his family and his church and an older sister who has a YouTube channel all about feminism and sexuality. There are white and Latinx characters, though the vast majority are black teens and adults. There is some swearing, alcohol consumption, and plenty of references to teenage sexuality as one of the predominant plot points is a rash of pregnancies at the school. This title is definitely appropriate for high school and older readers, as well as mature middle school readers, and all will benefit from an honest exploration of peer pressure, societal expectations of young men, and finding your own truth.
-Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library – Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch