Taking Chances: A Tales From Foster High Story by John Goode

4 stars

Taking Chances  Taking Chances is John Goode’s fifth instalment in the Foster High books. It is an extremely moving and at times funny story of Matt Wallace and Tyler Parker, who despite having lived down the street from one another while growing up in Foster, Texas, only discover each other as adults. The character of Tyler was first introduced in Book 2 of the series, The End of The Beginning, when he befriends main characters Brad Greymark and his boyfriend Kyle Stilleno and tries to support them in dealing with the fallout of their coming out. Matt’s tale was initially written as a short story, The Boy Behind The Red Door, and previously published as part of a Dreamspinner holiday anthology. Taking Chances is the full-length novel of that short story, in which the author continues to grow the Foster world through Tyler and Matt’s story.

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Fearing the backlash of living as a gay man in Foster, Texas, Matt thought that moving to California after high school graduation would change his life. Ten years later, he’s realised that San Francisco isn’t the Promised Land he’d hoped for. By his own admission he is “the worst gay guy.” He’s out of step with the San Francisco gay scene and unable to have a relationship with anyone, because no one measures up to his teenage fantasy of Tyler Parker – the boy who lived down the street, the boy behind the red door. Christmas sees Matt reluctantly returning home to spend the holidays with his family. While Matt’s life in California did not turn out as planned, the last place in the world he wants to be is in Foster, Texas.

Tyler Parker was a popular high school football star with a promising career in the sport. But his career ended practically before it began when he blew out his knee during a college football game and he returned to Texas to take over his family’s sporting goods business. Now, in his mid-thirties, Tyler has lived almost his entire life in Foster. Although he’s out to his family and close friends, Tyler leads a solitary life with no relationship prospects to speak of. His life consists of running the store, working out at the gym, hanging out with his best friend Linda Stilleno (Kyle’s mom) and returning home each night to watch television alone.

Life takes a turn for the better for both Tyler and Matt when they bump into one another other at a local mall and their mutual attraction becomes more than apparent. Now that they’re older, it doesn’t take Matt too long to figure out that love at first sight can be real. The only problem is neither Matt nor Tyler seems to know what to do after their initial encounter and their relationship almost ends before it begins.

The story takes place concurrently with events in Book 4 of the Foster High series, End of The Innocence, and in it Mr. Goode once again illustrates his inimitable talent for storytelling and characterisation through an intimate first person narration. Alternating perspectives between Matt and Tyler, the author provides emotional depth to each of the main characters through their rich inner voices and realistic dialogue. Their perspectives are complemented by the points of view of Kyle, Kyle’s mother Linda and Matt’s father Marvin.

Taking Chances is an emotionally textured story, sometimes quite funny and often very poignant, chronicling Tyler and Matt’s journey as they deal with their fears about being gay, living as out and having relationships. Mr. Goode explores the issues that both men face with honesty and integrity through straightforward story telling. Their issues are not contrived they are very real. While both men are out to their respective families and close friends, who are supportive, each, in his own way is still trying to come to terms with being gay and all that this entails, including allowing themselves to be in a relationship, to love and to be loved.

Matt fled Foster because he feared that he couldn’t live as a gay man in a small town. And yet, in many respects he equally feels like a fish out of water in San Francisco, the least homophobic city in the world, and in his own way shies away from relationships with men. For his part, Tyler never truly lived as an out gay man in Foster and also hasn’t allowed himself to be in a relationship. Their individual issues and fears dictate the dynamic of their relationship. This dynamic can be characterized as a “push me, pull you dance” throughout a good part of the story. While both Matt and Tyler crave a relationship, their fears and insecurities prevent them from honestly communicating what they both want and need. After several false starts, it takes a devastating tragedy in the town of Foster for Tyler and Matt to realise that they can no longer run from themselves or each other.

As characters Matt and Tyler are not perfect, they are fallible and both have made regrettable choices, and in the case of Tyler some quite serious mistakes, because of their fears, and this is what makes them both human and by extension tangible and relatable to the reader.

Through the story the author portrays with realism the issues of not only coming out but equally important of living as out. That for many, coming to terms with being gay, over-coming fear and self-loathing and working toward self-acceptance and love can be a long process and as difficult a journey as that of coming out. In this respect, the central themes that run through this story are universal themes that Mr. Goode has interwoven throughout all the books in the Foster High series. For this reason, Taking Chances is not simply a side story to the series, but an important contribution to the overall evolution of this series.

In the postscript to the story Mr. Goode writes that while love is hard and that not everyone gets to fall in love, gay love is even harder in a hetero-normative world. Drawing on the metaphor of love as food, as sustenance, he writes:

“Gay men are a lot like people who have been starved for most of their lives, forced to watch other people eat whenever they want… sitting outside the restaurant of love, watching other couples eat what we so desperately crave.”

By story’s end, Matt and Tyler have finally entered the restaurant, have sat down and are ready to eat at the table of love. In this respect, their story begins at the end of this novel and I’m looking forward to reading more about Tyler and Matt and how they navigate their relationship in the future.

Taking Chances is a wonderful story and contribution to the Foster High series and one that I recommend without hesitation to both readers of the series and to those that may be curious about the Foster High books.

For those readers that have yet to pick up this series, Taking Chances can be read as a stand-alone title as Mr. Goode has written all the books in the Foster High series with an eye on continuity in respect of back story. However, in order to fully appreciate the richness of this series, the cast of characters, their relationships and the evolution of their stories, including that of Tyler and Matt’s, I highly recommend reading all the preceding books in this excellent series.

Taking Chances by John Goode is available in ebook and print formats at Dreamspinner Press.

Music: Say – John Mayer (Soundtrack from The Bucket List, 2007)

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