The End of the Innocence
Goode’s sequel to Tales from Foster High is a thought-provoking cautionary tale about what love and hate mean. High school seniors Kyle and Brad start the year thinking about sex and end the first semester knowing what real love and compassion are.
Told in alternating perspectives, this book sets a lively pace from the outset. Former outcast Kyle and his baseball star boyfriend Brad find themselves ostracized by the cool crowd at school. Rather than be beaten down by their rejection, they make friends with other “uncool” kids who eat lunch on the steps of the band room.
While making new friends and settling in as a couple, Kyle and Brad are more concerned about whether to have sex, like most other high school kids. Virginal Kyle is uneasy, but not reluctant while the more sexually experienced Brad is gung-ho, but patient with the love of his life.
This isn’t to say that all is fine at Foster High with them being a gay couple. There are still bullies, mostly from Brad’s old group, and detractors. One particularly unpleasant confrontation comes from the father of one of Brad’s old buddies, Kelly. Kyle, ever the optimist, thinks things will calm down with time.
Kyle is wrong. Through Jennifer, formerly Brad’s girlfriend before Brad came out, Kyle meets Kenny, a gay man who runs a used clothing boutique. Kelly takes Kyle to the only gay bar in the area. There Kyle faces the walls of truth: one plastered with the pictures of gay men (to which Kyle’s photo is added), and the other a log of hate crimes against gays.
When Kelly is outed after the yearly “cool” kids party, all hell breaks loose with students, administration, parents, and townsfolk choosing sides with Kyle and Brad right in the middle.
Kyle, a clear-thinking young man, tries to be the voice of reason in a sea of turmoil. He’s a beautiful blend of kid and adult, the teenager who is breaking through to become a thoughtful young man. Like many teens, he wants to make the world a better place and does inspire those teens around him. But without adequate adult backing, he’s doomed only to watch tragedy unfold.
In contrast, Brad takes a more realistic than idealistic look at the world which makes him the perfect boyfriend and foil to Kyle. Brad knows that Kelly wasn’t liked by either the “cool” kids or the other groups, but tolerated by all of them. When the boy is outed, Brad knows exactly where his former companion has landed and knows all the sane options appear to be closed. Unfortunately, Brad knows the code of the macho athlete won’t help Kelly get through the turmoil and, in fact, will make his worst options seem best.
Interestingly, Goode adds a town of surprises: Brad’s former girlfriend Jennifer is understanding of his defection to Kyle because she recognizes homosexuality isn’t something she can change in him. The yin and yang of the homosexual spectrum appear with out-and-proud Kenny versus a shopkeeper who’s as far in the closet as he can get. A sympathetic café owner refuses to serve the intolerant much to Kyle and Brad’s amazement. And a host of others reveal themselves as events take over.
Grounding the story in reality are the stories of hate crimes and evangelical boot camps to save homosexual teens that really exist. As Kyle knows, the only way to fight Bible quoting homophobes is to become versed in Bible quotes and a good argument about when and why the teachings of the Old Testament should be followed. Whether this is a sign of Kyle’s genius or just his ability to be prepared is arguable.
My only quibble with the book is that it gets didactic toward the end. Suddenly, the story takes a back seat to Goode’s blatant message, as if readers have been too dense to get the point all along. Instead he should have relied on his own writing talent and backed off, letting what happens in the town speak for itself.
In an afterward, Goode lists resources for readers, gay teens, and their parents, so the book would be a good starting point for discussion between them even though the resources would have been augmented over the years because they’d become outdated.
Both Tales from Foster High and this book are not only standout pieces in the ranksof gay literature but also good, interesting gay romances to boot.