I’m going to deviate slightly from my usual first paragraph summary format in beginning this review to admit that John Goode was not an author on my radar. I stumbled upon Maybe With A Chance of Certainty, well, by chance, as I was perusing the Internet for new book releases. What immediately caught my attention was the title, specifically, the contradictory terms it contained. I found the play on words quite clever and wondered what the significance was to the actual story. Although the story summary outlines a commonly written trope in gay young adult and romance fiction I nonetheless remained intrigued by the title and purchased this book on a lark. I’m glad I did so because within the one hundred pages of this novella I fell in love with Mr. Goode’s writing and in particular his characterisation.
Maybe With A Chance of Certainty is the first book in the Tales From Foster High series and the story of seventeen year-old Kyle, a highly intelligent loner from, as he puts it, “Nowhere, Texas.” Gay and from an abusive home he spends most of his days trying to remain invisible by stealthily navigating the halls of his high school, eating lunch alone, and immediately running home after school in the hopes that no one will get close enough to discover the realities of his life.
“By the time I started high school, I had constructed a virtual igloo of emotional distance between me and everyone else. I projected a coldness that bordered on snobbery. I was the guy everyone knew of but no one could recall speaking to personally. I imagined myself an urban legend of Foster High School, like the Sasquatch or a chupacabra. Everyone had a friend who had seen me talking to someone, but no one had ever talked to me directly. I was a ghost wandering the halls, head down, backpack over one shoulder, eyes focused on where my next step would take me and nothing more. In a social environment where being cool and liked were currency, I was a monk who had taken a vow of poverty which then necessitated a vow of celibacy. I sidestepped conversations, ate lunch by myself, and practically ran home after school.
I didn’t know it, but I was broken in a way that wasn’t readily evident to those around me.”
Brad is the star of Foster High’s baseball team and part of the in-crowd at school. A good-looking jock, with plenty of friends and a girlfriend. By all appearances Brad has the perfect life. But the reality is that Brad’s outward life is a lie – he’s deeply closeted and also hails from an abusive home.
When Brad asks Kyle to tutor him in history, Kyle thinks that maybe his life has taken a turn for the better and the not so lonely. He and Brad bond almost immediately and their relationship quickly becomes much more than acquaintance or friendship. Kyle tries to resist falling for Brad to no avail. Brad wants Kyle, but also wants to remain in the closet and to keep up the façade of his outward life. As they try to navigate their relationship amidst the scruitiny of their peers Kyle quickly realises that what he’s suspected all along is true – that the promise of fairy-tale love is a lie when you’re gay and have fallen for one of the most popular boys in school.
Most readers prefer third person narratives. But based on my personal reading experience, a story written in the first person, when written well, provides a level of intimacy for the reader that can’t be surpassed. And this is exactly what Mr. Goode does in this book. In Maybe With A Chance of Certainty, the story unfolds solely through Kyle’s inner voice and monologue. Through the use of metaphors to driving cars, fairy-tales and the (un)packing of feelings in and out of plastic boxes, the author enables the reader to enter Kyle’s mind and heart, to see the world through his eyes and experience it as he does. This level of intimacy is established from the very first sentence in the novella and continues throughout the story.
It is more than obvious that Mr. Goode has the utmost deference for his characters as he has written both Kyle and Brad with unerring honesty, intelligence and depth. Kyle’s narrative is forthright and characterised by a cynical maturity, but given the circumstances of his life it is a sincere depiction of this character. He’s basically taken care of himself all of his life, and despite his youth I imagine that if we were to look into Kyle’s eyes we would see someone much older than his seventeen years. There is one scene in this novella that vividly stands out for me in respect of Kyle’s perspective. It takes place in the Vice-Principal’s office following Kyle’s altercation with a school bully (Kelly) that captures his sense of isolation and his feelings on the failure of the adults in his life:
“‘Look, Kyle,’ he said, sighing as he closed the file. ‘You seem like a good kid. Great grades, no tardies or absents; before this week, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in here. When something like this happens, it can be the start of a pattern. Things like fights and arguments out of nowhere are usually cries for help. Is that what is happening here?’
I looked up at him, acknowledging him for the first time since he had entered the room. He paused when he saw my reaction.
‘Why?’ I asked with absolutely no emotion in my voice whatsoever.
‘Why what?’ he asked, confused by the query.
‘Why would you care if it was a cry for help?’ I clarified.
His voice gave off a pleasing, concerned tone and he said, ‘Because we want to help.’
‘Okay,’ I said, frankly not caring anymore about anything. ‘My mother is a drunk, she is rarely home, and when she is, I’m terrified of what she might say or do. I think I’m gay and may have fallen in love with a guy who in no way possible can love me back. And I’m pretty sure that Kelly and I are on a collision course that is going to end with one of us killing the other. And we both know who is going to win that fight. So please, help me.’
His face had gone pale as the exact toll of everything I had just rattled off sank in.
‘Can you get me a new mom? Can you sober her up? Can you make me straight? Can you make him gay? Can you stop Kelly before he kills me?’
He shook his head no slowly; I’m sure he didn’t even know he was doing it consciously.”
We get to know Brad through Kyle’s eyes and through some very well written and genuine dialogue between the two characters. In this, Kyle’s perspective is quite insightful as he quickly realises that despite appearances, Brad’s life is no easier than his own – as Kyle tells us “he is equally broken.” Kyle’s quest to remain detached from everything and everyone is a mechanism that he’s used his entire life as a means of self-preservation. But when it comes to Brad he lets down his guard. Brad’s fear of losing everything should he come out to his family and friends and publicly admit his feelings for Kyle often manifests itself in Brad saying one thing and doing another. Brad’s actions inevitably leave Kyle wide open for disappointment and hurt and he realises that not even Brad can assure him of the certainty he seeks when it comes to his heart.
What I enjoyed most about this story is that Mr. Goode does not manufacture contrived teenage angst as a plot lever. What he does do through his honest and well-nuanced portrayal of both characters is to capture and validate the feelings of these two young men, their pain, courage, hopes and dreams.
For those of us who read not only for escape, but more so for sustenance, the discovery of a new author whose writing resonates is always exciting. Maybe With a Chance of Certainty is a well written coming of age story as told through the rich and deeply insightful narrative of the protagonist, and with characters that are written with emotional integrity, respect and sensitivity. I read this novella in one sitting and look forward to reading more of Mr. Goode’s books in the future, including Book #2 in Kyle and Brad’s continuing story, The End of the Beginning.