We are all Goats at one time or another, usually in our early teens when we’re discovering what our identities truly are while the adults have laughable and incongruent perceptions of “us.”
Using themes of identity, friendship and trust, author Brock Cole’s “The Goats” illustrates a late 80s camp ground ritual where two thirteen-year olds deemed social outcasts are stripped naked and left for a whole day on Goat Island. So, what did Howie and Laura do next? And what happened when the kid’s and the counselors can’t find them the next day? Where have they gone and why do they not want to be found?
To begin, I must disclose I would not have read this book based on its previous covers. This book is about 24 years old. Yup. Third new cover right here. Clever, clever marketing to get new kids reading old books. I’m glad though, because this is worth reading for teens, and the premise and reviews I read for it are what got me. But not everyone puts that kind of time and energy into their information gathering. I was sold on the plot is my point, where other younger people would possibly hear the premise, think it was neat, then see an old cover and pass on it. What sillies.
It should here be mentioned that while the themes and ability to relate to the characters in “The Goats” are strong, the writing is far from award worthy, at times clunky and under-relished, and most of the threads come together in the last third or so of this book. That’s what books are supposed to do of course, but at times the reader will say “where is he going with this?” The part where the two protagonists are in the other camp of mostly black children felt very tagged on and screamed that the book was written in the eighties with lingering seventies social awareness. The middle 40-pages are a drag. It didn’t add much to the character development, which already left a little to be desired.
Having said this, the truth is, this is a good book. “The Goats” has a lot to say about simply being a kid where we don’t get much say and other powers rule what we do and who we are. Who can’t relate to that?
It was nice to have a Young Adult book told in the third-person past tense, which is simply how it was decades ago. Today, YA is frequently and abusively first-person present tense. I also enjoyed Brock Cole’s framing device of showing what Laura’s mother or the camp counselors were doing every few chapters, as they tries to reunite with the missing kids, all the while speculating about what they’ve done, etc. Again – further showing the reader how adults view kids, sometimes rightly, sometimes way off base.
All in all, this book illustrates what sexuality is and what we perceive it to be in young teens. What bullying is. What survival is. How kids silently hate their awkward years. How some decide to play in the system and some almost leave it—or do leave it. This book also makes a believable friendship blossom that will surely last a lifetime between the two main characters. You want to know if they stayed friends, dated in the following years, changed their ways, grew stronger, lost contact with each other, etc.
While I found the author’s decision to call Howie and Laura “the boy” and “the girl” for symbolic reasons understandable and reasonable, I didn’t think it was all that necessary and lead to some confusion and dull sentences. This could have almost been an awe-inspiring short story of 30-pages, but the author wrote a short novel, practically a teen novella. And he pulls it off. It’s good. I can say that, and middle-schoolers should read this book, often banned for mild language and nudity in the first two chapters, none of which is highly sexual or violent in any sense. It’s just an example of censors not liking kids being nude, but why are they nude—that what makes this book worth reading.
The book is likely worth more than a three, but it didn’t entertain me enough or do anything that hadn’t been done. It’s a better story than a three, but that’s what it got.
182 pages. 1987. SquareFish/Macmillan Press.