Not So Pure and Simple

Book review by
Barbara Saunders, Common Sense Media
Not So Pure and Simple Book Poster Image
Hilarious tale of teen sexual and romantic drama.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Comic, satirical novel meant to entertain. Some discussions of coming out, importance of consent, need for instructive sex education, risks of unprotected sex.

Positive Messages

Use your own values as the compass for your behavior. Don't compromise what you believe for short-term gain, and don't be swayed by people's agendas.

Positive Role Models & Representations

All main characters are African American high schoolers and their families. Del's older sister Cressie uses her YouTube channel and college research in sociology to raise other people's voices and foster important conversations when no one else will. Among the adult characters, one father encourages his teen son to have sex and gives him condoms. Some parents supposed to be supervising a teen party are upstairs drinking margaritas while the teens are downstairs having sex.

Violence

A few descriptions of assaults, including a boy who throws hot coffee on a girl who refuses to give him her name and phone number. References to sexual assaults, not described. A girl escapes from a situation where a boy has her trapped in a private area and she fears being sexually assaulted. A boy punches another boy in the eye in a rivalry over a girl. 

Sex

Book is mostly a humorous send-up of adult hysteria about teen sexuality. Some wonderfully sensitive discussions about consent, coming out, sexual pleasure between consenting people, plus in-depth dialogue about how boys and girls see things differently. But many characters ultimately get rewarded for risky sexual behavior. Multiple girls have babies. Pregnancy scare owing to unprotected sex. A dad implies that his son ought to be getting some sexual action. Raising a baby as a teen is presented in a light, sometimes glamorous, manner. Some kids lie about having sex, others about not having sex.

Language

Infrequent use of profanity, including "f--k," "s--t," and "a--hole," and somewhat frequent use of word "d--k," both as an insult and as a reference to the body part. 

Consumerism

Social media figures prominently in the plot. Many mentions of specific brands, including YouTube, Instagram, MacBook, iPad, and FaceTime, which are often distracting, where a generic reference like "She opened her laptop" would have seemed more natural.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A scene where teens sneak away from their parents and drink wine. A scene where parents who are supposed to be supervising a teen party are upstairs drinking margaritas while teens are downstairs having sex.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Not So Pure and Simple is about high school junior Del, who's dealing with a world that increasingly revolves around sex. There was a rash of pregnancies among girls in his school, rumored to have been driven by a pact. Then the girls who gave birth started releasing YouTube videos outing the boys who are the fathers. Because of this, the school reconsiders its abstinence-only sex ed curriculum and replaces it with a class called "Healthy Life." In response to that, a local pastor creates a "Purity Pledge" group, for teens who promise to stay virgins (or stop having sex if they'd started). Meanwhile, Del's dad presses a condom on his son "just in case," subtly encouraging him to be a "ladies' man." And Del joins the purity club just to get closer to a girl he's infatuated with. It's mentioned in one scene that teens are playing sexual party games while the parents are on another floor of the house, drinking margaritas instead of supervising the party. There are a few descriptions of assaults, including a boy who throws hot coffee on a girl who refuses to give him her name and phone number. There are references to sexual assaults that are not described. A girl escapes from a situation where a boy has her trapped in a private area and she fears being sexually assaulted. A boy punches another boy in the eye in a rivalry over a girl. There's infrequent use of profanity, including "f--k," "s--t," and "a--hole," and frequent use of the word "d--k," both as an insult and as a reference to the body part. There are frequent, gratuitous mentions of consumer brands, including Instagram, Google, MacBook, FaceTime, and YouTube.

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What's the story?

When NOT SO PURE AND SIMPLE begins, high school junior Del has just signed up for the Purity Pledge group at his family's new church. Del was daydreaming during the sermon when the purpose of the club was explained; he walked to the altar to volunteer only because the girl he's been infatuated with did so. Everyone in Del's town, Green Hill, Virginia, is preoccupied with sex. There was a rash of pregnancies among girls in his school, rumored to have been driven by a pact. Then the girls who gave birth started releasing YouTube videos outing the boys who are the fathers. Because of this, the school reconsiders its abstinence-only sex ed curriculum and replaces it with a class called "Healthy Life." In response to that, a local pastor creates a "Purity Pledge" group, for teens who promise to stay virgins (or stop having sex, if they'd started). Meanwhile, Del's dad presses a condom on his son "just in case," subtly encouraging him to be a "ladies' man." His sister produces a feminist-themed YouTube channel. His mom is trying to fit in at the church. Del ends up being the secret conduit of information from the Healthy Living class to the Purity Pledge kids, who are curious about everything from nocturnal emissions to foot fetishes. The story gets complicated as Del escalates his role as go-between, all the while continuing to try to woo his crush, Kiera, under the false pretense that he's committed to celibacy.

Is it any good?

This is a hilarious, honest examination of the hysteria surrounding that stage of life when teens discover sexuality. Lamar Miles (Fake ID and Endangered) creates many realistic and sympathetic characters in Not So Pure and Simple, even lovable foils who never become two-dimensional villains. The book is most suitable for mature, older teens, due to a lot of sexual content and focus on sexual activity with mixed messages about consequences. Many of the kids are sexually active. One storyline is that nine girls in the school got pregnant because kids were bored at home during a storm. By naming the fathers, the girls fight back against the shaming leveled at them. However, this empowerment message downplays the magnitude of all these babies born to teens. In addition, some of the satire about the influence of the church on the school and the peer pressure by church members on one another may go over the head of some teen readers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how sex ed is portrayed in Not So Pure and Simple. What do teens need to know about sex -- and when? What kind of instruction could have helped Green Hill avoid the rash of pregnancies, given that the efforts of the school, parents, and pastor all failed? 

  • Teens, parents, and community leaders alike in Not So Pure and Simple are caught up in peer pressure. Which of the characters do you think could have, or should have, spoken up sooner about what they felt was right? Which kinds of peer pressure did the most harm?

  • The kids in the story turn to the internet both to get the information they need and to communicate without adult interference. What are the pros and cons of relying on the internet as a significant medium for communication in a community?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love funny teens and stories that stress importance of consent

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