Aptly entitled 151 Days, Book 6 in the Tales From Foster High series chronicles just that – the last 151 days of high school until graduation for Kyle Stilleno and his boyfriend Brad Greymark. It is Mr. Goode’s best-written instalment in the series to date, as with each successive book the author raises his own bar in terms of writing quality, character development and overall story advancement.
151 Days picks up immediately following events in Book 4, End of the Innocence. It is a turbulent time for Kyle, Brad and their friends as they continue to deal with the aftermath of Kelly’s death. With their support, Kyle sets out to form a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in Foster High as a means of raising awareness and promoting tolerance so that what happened to Kelly never happens again. But life continues to unfold and the GSA is not their only going concern as choices and decisions must be made about love, sex, graduation, college and their future beyond Foster, Texas. At the same time they must face the circumstances surrounding Kelly’s death and a situation that threatens to lead to yet another tragedy at Foster High.
151 Days is the longest book in the series and befittingly marks the end of Kyle and Brad’s journey as high school students. It is also emotionally charged and rivalled only in its intensity by End of the Innocence. All the qualities of Mr. Goode’s writing that I have come to love are front, and centre in this book – strong characterisation that treats the characters and their relationships with deference, and courage and care in tackling difficult and complex issues through which the author conveys important messages.
A distinguishing aspect of this author’s writing is the manner in which he has shown the growth of not only the main characters, but also that of the many recurring secondary characters over the course of the series. And 151 Days is no exception. Unlike previous books in the series in which Mr. Goode alternates the first person narrative between Kyle and Brad only, in 151 Days the author writes from a multi-character perspective giving several characters voice and allowing the reader to experience the world through their eyes.
The author takes an interesting approach to the multi-character narrative by often re-visiting an event or a particular scene from this and previous books from the perspective of a character other than Kyle or Brad. I found the manner in which the author either re-visits scenes or narrates in the present from the perspective of several of the secondary characters to be very effective in not only providing further insight and understanding of such beloved characters as Jennifer and Robbie, but also in enriching the overall story without sacrificing its fluidity. The author achieves this by clearly delineating each character’s point of view through individual chapters.
A character that truly stands out in this story is Jeremy and I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically mention Mr. Goode’s outstanding portrayal of him. I’ve always felt that the mark of good writing and characterisation is an author’s ability to portray a character without judgment, and to make even a less than likeable character accessible to the reader. Even when a character commits despicable acts, if written well, the reader should have a level of understanding or even empathy for them. This is exactly what the author achieves with Jeremy. Mr. Goode gives voice to Jeremy with an unnerving realism. At the same time, however, the writing deftly communicates to the reader with understanding (and yes even compassion) the sheer anguish of Jeremy’s existence and the reasons behind his self-loathing, anger and his feelings of utter hopelessness, all of which contribute to Jeremy’s extremely poor choices and ultimately his terrible actions. Mr. Goode achieves a fragile balance in the writing of this character. Even with Jeremy’s unthinkable actions, it was difficult for me to dislike him. The overwhelming emotion that I felt while reading this novel was one of deep sorrow at the tragedy of Jeremy’s life.
While 151 Days features a truly ensemble cast, Kyle and Brad remain central to the story as they prepare for graduation and look to their future. One of the main strengths of this series has been the growth of both characters over the course of each book and with it the evolution of their relationship. Mr. Goode takes some interesting turns with Kyle by exploring his anger and pain at the loss of Kelly. As I’ve mentioned in reviews of previous books, none of the characters in this series are black or white. They all have flaws, even Kyle. Through Kyle’s reaction to Jeremy joining the GSA (whether justified or not) Mr. Goode demonstrates that we all have the capacity for intolerance, even Kyle. For his part, Brad is presented with some great opportunities in respect of his future, but also with some difficult choices about who he wants to be and how he wants to live. Although Kyle and Brad have their individual issues to resolve, they remain each other’s support. Mr. Goode also smoothly transitions their relationship into a sexual one as a natural progression, and does this with humour.
As with all the books in this series, the resounding messages of this story is that irrespective of how difficult life’s circumstances, there are always choices and there is always hope. The author conveys these messages without being preachy, but rather by enveloping the reader in the lives of the inhabitants of Foster, Texas, their joys, sorrows, fears, hopes, failures and dreams through some excellent storytelling. Kyle’s ultimate decision to support Jeremy, despite his anger and pain and even with his own life in danger; Brad’s choice to not live a lie even though he may be sacrificing his life’a dream; Robbie’s choice to finally forgive and move on with his life; and Jennifer’s decision to once again give love a go and follow her heart are but a few examples. Each character contributes to the unfolding of this story and their choices and actions contribute, whether positively or negatively, to the events that take place and their outcomes, and to the relationships that are either strengthened or lost as a result.
The last scene in the book made me smile and conveys a sense of hope that indeed things are changing for the better for the next generation of young folks in “No Where” Texas. This sense of hope is further reinforced by Mr. Goode’s honest and moving personal note at the end of book, which should not be skipped.
I discovered this series by chance about three years ago when I picked up Maybe With A Chance of Certainty and have loved Mr. Goode’s writing and this series from the beginning. 151 Days is a perfect ending to the story of Foster, Texas, and I will miss its inhabitants. But, I do hope that the author continues to write Kyle and Brad’s journey beyond Foster, Texas with more instalments in their continuing story. And then of course there’s Robbie’s story…
For readers that have yet to discover this series, I highly recommend 151 Days. While the book can be read as a single title, in order to fully appreciate the richness and growth of the main characters and their relationships, and ultimately the overall story arc, I strongly suggest reading the series from the beginning before embarking on Book 6, starting with Book 1, Maybe With A Chance of Certainty.
Music: Waiting On The World To Change – John Mayer; Some Nights – Fun; Everybody Talks – Neon Trees; Tonight, Tonight – Hot Chelle Rae; Spectacular, Spectacular – Moulin Rouge Soundtrack; The Great Escape – Boys Like Girls; Bye, Bye, Bye – NSYNC; Home – Phillip Phillips; Where The Story Ends – The Fray