“If you live your life scared of what other people think, then you will always be miserable.” –John Goode
Author: John Goode
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Rating: 5 Stars
Blurb: With just 151 days left until the school year ends, Kyle Stilleno is running out of time to fulfill the promise he made and change Foster, Texas, for the better. But Kyle and his boyfriend, Brad Graymark, have more than just intolerance to deal with. Life, college, love, and sex have a way of distracting them, and they’re realizing Foster is a bigger place than they thought. When someone from their past returns at the worst possible moment, graduation becomes the least of their worries.
Review: If you have come to this review looking for a “recap” of this story, I am afraid you will need to go elsewhere. To do justice to 350 pages in a mere few paragraphs is difficult at best, but if you are talking about a book that has finished off a five book series with a few shorts thrown in for good measure, it is impossible. Therefore, my first word of advice to those who may be new to this author is to go back and begin at book one of this Tales From Foster High series, Maybe With a Chance of Certainty. Trust me, you will be ever so grateful you did.
For those who have enjoyed this series and are gnashing their teeth over the idea that this is the last Foster High novel, well, I must admit I was right there with you until I read Mr. Goode’s Author’s Note. I believe my cry of “YES” could be heard in the next county over. No, do not go read the Author’s Note, it contains spoilers, just know that Brad and Kyle’s story is not necessarily over and leave it at that. Now, how to review this rather expansive novel that so very adroitly ties up several story threads, or at least gives them the needed moment of closure until they may be picked up again? Let’s do this. Let’s discuss what a few characters learned in this final novel. How they either changed for better, how they changed the town of Foster.
Kyle Stilleno may indeed “come of age” in this series, but it is in this book, 151 Days, that the reader begins to realize that there are people in this world who are just as determined as Kyle to set right the injustices they see around them. Kyle barely lives through his final days at high school. From challenging the school board for a Gay-Straight Alliance to facing down a fellow student wielding a whole lot of anger and pain with a gun in his hand, Kyle literally shines in this novel. His determination to be part of the solution rather than dismiss the problem of bigotry as simply too big to deal with nearly loses him everything. If I were going to use one word to describe Kyle, it would be “plucky”. I know, it is a woefully un-descriptive word, yet it’s almost perfect for this young man. He never stops. Faced with loss after loss, roadblock after seemingly insurmountable roadblock and nearly losing the one person he loves in the process, Kyle refuses to stand down. The remarkable strength of this character is that he is fairly positive that Foster will never change, still he continues to shove the town toward seeing its need to change every chance he gets. He is, for want of a better word, damn plucky.
Brad Graymark does some serious growing up in this novel. It does not change this loveable, slightly buffoonish character into someone unrecognizable. No, author John Goode takes this young jock and allows him to realize that he can be defined by more than his sport of choice. When Brad is faced with the rather sleazy truths about being gay in a top ranked college level sports program, his choice is obvious. He must either swallow who he is, who he has fought so desperately to be, a gay athlete, or hide. It is as simple as that and, sadly, a choice that echoes in the locker room of ever school and pro or semi-pro team today. Along the road to this decision lie interactions and situations that will redefine how Brad looks at Foster, his future, and his boyfriend Kyle. There were times in this novel where my heart really broke for this boy. In order to define who he was, who he wanted to be would require great sacrifice, and he would be making those decisions alone. It is this idea that most shapes the person Brad will become—that he would finally have to make choices without Kyle steering or even supporting him along the way. I am pretty sure I fell in love with this character all over again because of this novel.
Now we turn to every side character from Robbie (whom I adore) to Jeremy (whom I weep for), and everyone in between. Kyle and Brad may be some of the finest characters ever created by this remarkable author, but it is the wealth of his side characters that really sets John Goode apart when it comes to storytelling. If you have followed this series, then you know there are so many faces that populate Foster, and that you have grown to love or even hate. Some you have mourned and others you have despised. However, not one of them has ever left your memory and is so very familiar every time you crack open the next book in this series. That, you see, is genuinely impeccable writing. John Goode creates this fabric of lives, weaves them together and sets them afloat in the breeze of his stories to see where they will finally land. He allows for the messy and bitter, the angry and comforting, the compassionate and the flawed all to coexist together. In other word, he creates a community—a town, and does not shy away from showing you its less than savory underbelly. Nor does he hesitate to show you its heroes. Simply put, John Goode is a brilliant novelist who writes a damn good story that remains with you well after the last word on the page.
151 Days is a love letter and a warning. The final story in the Foster High series reminds us that we can be the one person who can make a difference if we choose to be, but it also cautions us that inaction on our part can allow for deadly results. In the end, the novel asks us, who do we want to be? DO we want to be the person who watches bigotry and bullying unfold and shake our heads in despair while walking away sure that we can do nothing to change it? Or can we take a page from Kyle’s book and boldly step up and offer just a small piece of ourselves in order to see this world begin to change. “Which person will you be,” this novel asks. I wonder how we will answer.