Friday, August 27, 2010

175 (2010 #40). Near Occasion of Sin

by Judy Delton

This was another book that caught my eye while manually going through all the PZ7s (fiction) at my university library, looking for picture books and award-winning chapter books I had not already added to our LibraryThing account. I liked the old photo album feel of this wrap-around dust jacket, and the title--a phrase from the Catholic Act of Contrition in use when I was a child--hit home.

This was the only young adult novel by children's author Judy Delton, and I suspect it is somewhat autobiographical, at least for her childhood and youth. Delton was born in 1931, like the main character of this book, Tess, who attends Catholic school (including an all-girls high school and college, as did Delton) and later teaches at one - as did Delton.

Having been brought up Catholic myself, I could relate to some of this book--learning the catechism, First Communion and fasting, going to Confession every week (my least favorite part of Catholicism) and having to make up sins to tell the priest. However, when Tess marries a pen pal she barely knows to avoid being an old maid and "the near occasion of sin" (i.e. the temptation to give in to his pushing for sex), I could not relate. Her husband, Duane, is a mentally-abusive alcoholic (and sexaholic) who has trouble holding down a job and makes obscene phone calls to Tess' friends. I cheered when the pregnant Tess (and of course, according to Duane, being pregnant is Tess' fault) leaves Duane near the end of book and moves back in with her parents. The book ends abruptly with the birth of her daughter and no resolution on what happens to them or to Duane. Makes me wonder if Delton was planning a sequel, but poor sales of this book (published in 1984) squashed those plans.

In an interview with Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Delton said, "In the seventies, there was a lot of popular interest in tracing people's origins, so I decided to write about growing up Catholic in the forties....Because my characters are mostly me, emotionally, they usually go through what I do." (Delton wrote a lot of series books, including her humorous Kitty series on a girl growing up Catholic in the 30s and 40s). A note on the back inside of this book jacket says that in "1971...she found herself the sole support of her four children," implying that her own marriage ended in widowhood or divorce (I do hope her husband was not as awful as Duane).

Tess is more of a contemporary of my mother, as all the action takes place before 1952, and I grew up Catholic mostly post-Vatican II. Despite 12 years of Catholic schooling, I'm a somewhat-lapsed Catholic now, and I had difficulty relating to Tess' obsession with sin. Even with a proliferation of abstinent single young Christians today (who are marrying at what are, to me, appallingly young ages), I don't think this book would be of interest to most young adults nowadays.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This book was borrowed from and returned to my university library.]

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