Del has it bad for Kiera Westing, and he’s crushed on her almost his entire life, from kindergarten to high school. But the girl always has a boyfriend, and he can never seem to get the timing right to snag her during the in-between times. But this time when she finally becomes available, Del may have an in. See, Kiera doesn’t seem to be in a rush to find a new boyfriend – she is taking it so slow, she has joined the Purity Pledge youth group at her family’s church. Del’s family are new members, and he joins the Pledge by accident – but maybe it will turn out in his favor.
The development of the Purity Pledge group is a deliberate response to a local town scandal that developed last year, when nine girls at Del’s high school became pregnant. The news and the students call the girls the BabyGetters Club, insinuating they were part of a pregnancy pact. But Del and his classmates know that what really happened was a lot of boredom during an extended snow-event, with nothing to do while parents were working but to get busy. Still, the church is doing their thing in response, and the school is as well, revamping their Healthy Living course (aka sex ed) to be more thorough.
Most of Del’s fellow Purity Pledgers are not allowed to take the high school course. Del’s family is more open-minded. When Del’s fellow Pledger Jameer figures out how hard up Del is for Kiera, he offers a proposal: he help Del get his best friend Kiera, and in return, Del fill Jameer in on what he’s learning in Healthy Living. Soon, Del becomes the reluctant messenger of sex ed for the entire Pledge group, much to Kiera’s dismay.
What Del hasn’t been factoring in is Kiera, whose own agenda is a mystery to him. But Del’s a good guy – and there’s no reason she wouldn’t pick the good guy in the end, right?
I’ve enjoyed Giles’s teen thrillers before, but this is his first step into contemporary YA fiction. He’s gifted us with a nuanced look at sexism and the ignorance of “good guys” that is also chock full of humor and characters you root for. Del is a likable guy – very funny, smart, and well-intentioned, but faltering where a lot of teens do – slacking off on his crappy fast-food job, allowing the school to think he’s more of a player than he is, and putting his own needs first. It’s not always his fault, and who can blame kids for screwing up when we send them such mixed messages on complicated matters like sex? Del’s peers are also complicated, rich characters. The male friendships are lovingly written, and the girls and women in Del’s life are strong but not infallible.
The best gift of all from Giles’s latest is the subtle sexism it tackles. Through Kiera, Del’s coworker Maya, his collegiate sister Cress, and BabyGetter Cheyanne, we get bits and pieces of the stories Del is missing in his quest to land Kiera. Del’s journey is simple-sounding, but immensely challenging: what do we do in a world where even nice guys like Del are brought up to value women only in the context of their own stories? What is it that makes them realize that they aren’t really listening to women’s narratives? And how do men move forward when they are challenged on those faults? Every man in this book has to face this at some point: Jameer, who uses Kiera’s friendship to protect his own ass; Del’s best friend Qwan, a notorious player brought down to earth by the school’s so-called THOT; Del’s pastor, grieving the loss of his wife while forgetting her legacy; and Del’s own father, who can’t even hear the stories his own wife and daughter are trying to share.
A thoroughly entertaining story that opens rich conversations for young men.