End of the Innocence is the fourth book and the first full-length novel in the Tales From Foster High series. It is an incredibly moving and thought-provoking multi-themed story in which author John Goode throws the doors of Foster High wide open to grow Kyle and Brad’s world by focusing on not only what is happening to them, but also on what is happening all around them, further developing secondary characters and introducing new ones.
In doing so Mr. Goode examines the issues of homophobia, forced outing, marginalisation and cyber bullying from all angles and blurs the lines between bully and victim. The author also deals with the issue of gay teen suicide head on, with the same sensitivity and respect that he’s written all the books in this series. There are tragic events that transpire in this story that are transformative for both Kyle and Brad, their friends and the entire town of Foster. They are also a turning point for the series as a whole.
I found this instalment in the series the most powerful and the best written to date. This is saying a lot because I consider all the books in the series to be extremely well written. What make this particular book stand out so are Mr. Goode’s courage and care in the execution of this story. Courage in tackling with realism extremely difficult subject matter, and care in how the issues are depicted all the while ensuring the integrity of the overall story and its characters. And despite the ugliness of some of the events and the tragedy that ensues as a result, the story conveys incredibly important messages while at the same time leaving the reader with a sense of hope.
“…‘And a couple of months ago, I was told there was nothing anyone could do about people picking on me at school for being gay unless they hit me in front of someone who would report it. My boyfriend got thrown off the baseball team, even though he’s a key player, and he’s been beaten up. Odds are, if we go to this party, we will get our asses kicked. The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing. Now tell me again why Brad and I should risk our lives.’
Tom looked confused, so Robbie jumped in. ‘Because someone has to say they aren’t moving to the back of the bus.’
‘I’m not Rosa Parks,’ I replied confidently.
‘Yes,’ he assured me. ‘You are.’”
The story picks up immediately following events from Raise Your Glass (Book 3). Kyle and Brad have survived their first week at school following their coming out, where they both experience bullying and violence from their fellow students, and a mixture of apathy and disdain from teachers and school administrators.
End of the Innocence begins with Kyle and Brad once again returning to school just before the Christmas break. There’s trepidation on both their parts as they anticipate another week of hell, but instead they find unexpected and welcome surprises in the form of allies. Brad’s ex-girlfriend, Jennifer, appears to have had a change of heart from her anger and resentment to actively supporting the two and Sammy, a classmate of Kyle’s, also befriends them. Together the foursome set out to change their world by educating minds and hearts through example. At Jennifer’s insistence and with the help of Brad’s new Dungeons and Dragons crew, Kyle and Brad agree to take a stand in support of inclusiveness and diversity by attending their classmate Kelly’s annual Christmas bash.
But the Christmas party turns into disaster and Kelly is in trouble. And although both Kyle and Brad (in particular Kyle) set aside their past difficulties with Kelly to stand by him and try to help, they can’t prevent the tragedy that takes place. One that devastates Kyle and Brad, and one from which the town of Foster is left reeling.
There are many aspects of this novel that stand out. Foremost is the author’s continued outstanding characterisation in terms of both primary and secondary characters and most important to this particular book, the manner in which he intersects Kyle and Brad’s story with those of prominent secondary characters, exploring the relationships amongst and between them. Another aspect of the writing that stands out is the realistic dialogue amongst all the characters, which also serves to draw out the secondary characters in this tale.
As with all of the books in this series, End of the Innocence is written in the first person, alternating the narrative between Kyle and Brad. Over the course of the series the author has shown the growth of both protagonists in the face of adversity, and because of their marginalisation they’ve drawn strength and learned from each other. We’ve journeyed with Kyle who’s evolved from shyness and isolation to someone who’s slowly coming into his own, gaining confidence and emerging as a leader, albeit a somewhat reluctant one at times. For Brad self-growth has come through reflection on his past behaviour and actions, and taking steps to be someone that both he and Kyle can be proud of. The development of both characters continues in this story, as they gain new friends and insights, and realise that they are not alone. Both have experienced great difficulties in their lives and neither is naïve in their outlook, Kyle in particular has a mature cynicism about him. However, in keeping with the title of this book, the innocence that is inherent in their youth is shattered because of the events that transpire in this story.
The three previous books in the series are for the most part focused on Kyle and Brad, their individual stories, their relationship and the fall-out from their coming out. But in this book, the author expands their universe by exploring previously introduced and new secondary characters creating a truly ensemble cast.
One of the prominent secondary characters is Kelly, who is first introduced in Maybe With A Chance of Certainty (Book 1). He is part of Brad’s crowd at school and has been bullying Kyle and others. Through Brad’s perspective in previous books we learn of his past with Kelly and the reasons behind Kelly’s resentment of Kyle. Kelly’s storyline is pivotal in End of the Innocence, and it is mostly through this character that the author explores some of the reasons behind bullying and as Kelly’s story progresses, blurs the lines between bully and victim.
Robbie, who is the owner of Foster’s thrift shop, is the newest character to join the series. Robbie takes Kyle under his wing and in many respects serves as a catalyst for Kyle to step up to the plate and take care of his own. Robbie is a wonderfully nuanced character and an absolute joy to read. To Kyle, he is a combination of fairy godfather and tough-love big brother all rolled up into one. His quick wit and sharp tongue had me laughing out loud. But there’s pain beneath that sarcasm and according to the author we will be reading his story in the future.
Both Jennifer and Sammy are a breath of fresh air in this story. I must admit that I was a little suspicious of Jennifer’s motives at the beginning and had a “Carrie” moment. But this character emerges as one tough cookie that is able to move beyond her hurt and resentment at being dumped by Brad to become a true friend to both Brad and Kyle. Equally, I loved Sammy’s blue hair, independence and “take me or leave me,” “I call bullshit” no nonsense disposition.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Dungeons and Dragons crew – Andy, Jeff and Mike – also known as the Council of Nerds, that through Kyle have adopted Brad. It’s more than crystal clear how much they trust and look up to Kyle, and because of this agree to help Kyle and Brad make a statement at Kelly’s party. I have to admit that I get a big kick out of these three, their interactions with Brad and how they always manage to perplex him. The Dungeons and Dragons crew along with Robbie provide for the more humorous scenes in the story.
It is through this well-rounded cast of characters (including several that aren’t mentioned in this review) that Mr. Goode unfolds this story and through which he examines the important issues of marginalisation and bullying from all sides. None of the characters are black or white. They all have flaws, even Kyle. What is crucial in this story and indeed the series as a whole is the honesty and compassion with which the author takes on these issues through these characters. In the end, the resounding message of this story is about the choices we make. The choice to stand up and be heard or to hide, and the manner in which we choose to affect change – whether through understanding, empathy and forgiveness, or through fear, anger and hatred. Each character has a part to play in the unfolding of this story and each character’s choices contribute, whether positively or negatively, to the events that take place and their outcomes.
I fell in love with Mr. Goode’s writing from the very first book and this remains a constant for all the books in this series. End of the Innocence packs an emotional wallop and deals with some serious issues. However, through the excellent characterisation of Kyle, Brad and the secondary cast, and the courage and optimism that the two protagonists evoke, the story also provides the reader with a sense of hope. Just as the compilation of the first three books in the series, Tales From Foster High, made my reading best for 2012 so does End of The Innocence for 2013. I cannot recommend this book and series enough.
For those readers that have yet to discover this series, End of the Innocence can be read as a stand-alone title as Mr. Goode has written all the books with an eye on continuity in respect of back story. However, in order to fully appreciate the richness of the main characters, their growth and the evolution of their relationship, as well as the secondary stories that are invaluable to the overall story arc, I strongly recommend reading the series from the beginning before embarking on this book.
Music: The End of The Innocence – Don Henly (The End of The Innocence, 1989); Somebody I Used To Know (feat. Kimbra) – Gotye (Making Mirrors, 2012); I’ll Be (The Greatest Fan of Your Life) – Edwin McCain (Misguided Roses, 1997)