Every once in a while a novel comes along that somehow changes you—burrows in and makes a home inside you—touches you in a way that leaves you profoundly changed.  When this happens, I find that I unconsciously begin to use this gem as a marker—a standard by which all other books must either measure up too or fall short.  A few months ago, I heard that John Goode was gong to be the author of the month on the YA LGBT thread at Goodreads.  As a moderator there, I felt a responsibility to at least read one of his books.  One.  I was only going to read one.  Honest.  Then I stepped into the wit and imagination of John Goode’s mind and any resolve to stop at one flew right out the window and has yet to return.

The Tales From Foster High series by John Goode follows the lives of two teenage boys, Kyle, a shadow—there, but never seen, existing in a place that he dreams of leaving his every waking moment.  The other, Brad, a star athlete, revered by the high school population, a demi-god who hides a fractured home life and a larger secret—he may just like boys…a lot.  This trilogy is a 5-star read from start to finish.  So, join me, dear reader, in a magical trip into the imagination of an up and coming author who is poised to set the m/m genre on fire.  I give you, Tales of Foster High by John Goode.

“I don’t remember the moment I knew I was broken…but I do know the moment I began to feel fixed. It was the day the green-eyed boy fell in love with me.” (Kyle)

Maybe With a Chance of Certainty is a coming of age novel like no other. Its story revolves around Kyle, a battered, oft physically abused 17-year-old who lives with a drunken mother and a fear that someday someone will truly see him, will discover he is gay, and will force him out into the light of day that he so adroitly avoids. Enter Brad, baseball hero, god of high school fame, abused and broken 17-year-old who steadfastly hides in the closet until he sees Kyle, really sees him and knows…knows that this is what he has been missing…that this boy is one he likes maybe, with a chance of certainty.

Brad is the star of Foster High’s baseball team and presiding king of the popular crowd.  At a glance, Brad has it all: a nice girlfriend, lots of friends, good-looking, and driving a hot car.  But looks can be deceiving and in this case they truly are.  The reality is that Brad’s life at school is a lie.  In reality he is deeply closeted and returns home daily to a drunken father and a distant mother.  Unfortunately he is also failing history.  Brad’s one goal in life is to graduate and move onto college and get out of Foster, Texas or “Nowhere” Texas as Kyle calls it.  Kyle ends up being Brad’s tutor and the two are immediately drawn to each other.

For the first time in his life, Kyle has someone who sees him—really sees him — and he falls for Brad, hard and fast, all the while trying to resist his attraction.  Brad returns Kyle’s feelings, but is not willing to come out of the closet or give up his place in the school pecking order—being on top is nice—too nice to give up.

As the move through their relationship in and out of school, Kyle begins to realize that what he suspected all along is true; that the promise of a fairy-tale love doesn’t apply to you when you are gay and the boy you like is the most popular guy in school.

Let me begin by saying that the humor and language used in this novella stands head and shoulders above most YA books.  Never does this novel insult us by offering sweet and bland euphemisms for the feelings that real teens experience every day. It does not look at the sometimes hellish place high school can be for so many and paint it with a fairy tale brush. It does not demand that we “get over it” and move on because “someone else always has it worse than us”. No, this book says, your life is important…your pain is real…your story is one worth telling…one I want to hear.

The plot is tight, the story well crafted, and the characters so very believable!  This is an imaginative and thoughtfully crafted story and it left me wanting just a bit more—well, a lot more if the truth is to be told.  And the ending…oh my, that is a sweet yet terrifying moment.

Every once in a while, a novel comes along and it grabs us and shakes us to our very core. And after we have finished, we understand that we have been made just a bit better by the reading of it…that we have been made just a bit richer because of it, that we have been shown truth and love in its purest form. That is what John Goode’s novel, Maybe With a Chance of Certainty, has done for me.

The hallways of Foster High are alive with whispers and gossip.  Into this jungle of hormones, homophobia and teenage angst stroll Brad and Kyle—together, undeniably together.  Brad, in what can only be described as a break from reality, has declared his love for Kyle, and, that he, himself, is also gay and that up until this moment he has been living a lie. This novel, End of the Beginning, now takes us through the day after that declaration. A day in which not only is Brad’s past laid bare for us to see, but a day for us to also shake our heads and fingers at in alternate moments of disgust and compassion. A day for us to, in a moment of blinding clarity, see how very much we are the same as Brad–sometimes lost, sometimes despairing, sometimes so unhappy that we do things we would never wish to see the light of day.

Whereas the first book of this series told its story in the first person narrative by Kyle, this one is all Brad’s voice, and what a voice.  I fell in love with this boy, Brad. I thought that Kyle held that place in my heart, but he has moved aside and let this boy in as well. I cried for him. I read, aghast, at the cruelty of his fellow peers, his broken parents, and I wept at his pain. And, at the end of this incredible little book, I knew that I had found an author who somehow manages to crawl inside the mind and hearts of the teenager that hides within each of us.

There are so many passages in this book that stand out, but honestly? The last few lines of this book caught me up and ripped a sob of joy right out of my throat. A ring and 81 cents. If you want to understand how they can evoke such a visceral reaction from this reader, then you must read this book. Trust me, after reading it you will only have one thing to say to the author, John Goode. “Please sir, may I have more?”

I must admit I feel like a bit of a broken record…but oh my…this book? Well this book was quite simply..stunning. I can tell you that Raise Your Glass is not all hugs and kisses. In fact, this story was, at times, part gut-wrenching, part infuriating, and terribly sweet. So let’s begin, shall we…let’s step into that fertile land of John Goode’s imagination and visit with his boys, Kyle and Brad, one more time.

This story is the 3rd part in the ongoing saga of two high school boys. Brad is a baseball jock, popular in-crowd King, and well, frankly, just a bit of an ass. But that all changes–in oh so many ways after he meets Kyle, self-admitted emo-esque, nerdy brainiac, and lonely guy who has lived most of his life in the shadows.   In the first two books, our two boys meet, fall in love and “come out” to their conservative high school in Foster, Texas. The story picks up the following Monday at school.

…As I walked by I could hear the creeping whisper follow me all the way to class. The Creeping Whisper is a virus that moves from person to person as Patient Zero walks down the hall.

Honestly–who writes this kind of stuff? Is that not IT in a nutshell! Haven’t we all at one time done something to bring the “creeping whisper” down upon us?? Don’t you remember how intensely uncomfortable it was–knowing the entire class was talking about YOU? Welcome to the first stroke of genius to fall from Mr. Goode’s pen–you are there–with a few sentences you are back in high school and it is so uncomfortable, so real, that already at page 29 you are hoping to god these boys make it. But the day has just begun…

Things go rapidly from bad to worse for Brad and Kyle as they confront students and teachers alike who view their being gay as an “abomination.” From a physical beating that Brad endures by a gang of supposed teammates to a painful and appalling conversation with a bigoted Assistant Principal who informs Kyle he will get no “special treatment” because of his “perversion,” we walk through the most horrible day of high school ever imagined. And while these boys made a pact to stick it out together to the bitter end, the day simply overwhelms them and at one point Kyle finds himself alone…

I felt my resolve dive out from underneath me as I began to cry and cry and cry. And I didn’t know if I would ever stop.

Ah me…the journey John Goode takes us on in this novella…the painful yet simultaneously uplifting journey he has these two young men travel was one traumatic moment after another. They endure as friends abandon them. They see how they are viewed by their peers and in many ways it strengthens their resolve to confront bullying in their school once and for all–even the bullying that they themselves took part in…or simply stood by and allowed to happen. For Brad, the day brought it’s share of painful eye-opening revelations that he had been a piece of the problem and now, as he bore the brunt of bullying, he resolved to be part of the solution.

The author shows us both sides of this story. He trots out, with ruthless clarity, the hate and bigotry that so many of our LGBT youth endure every single day. He puts it on display and dares us to look away from the searing truth that gay youth are despised and bullied and that it pervades our schools and churches and neighborhoods. Then he takes us by the hand and shows us the tolerance of loving parents–not perfect parents, not by a long shot, but supportive parents. Parents who were willing to go toe to toe with bigots and shout them down with the law on their side.

And here’s the really stunning part, dear reader. He does it with humor and a compelling story and in-depth characterizations and really smart dialogue that never spoke down to us but rather, invited us to rise to its level of excellence. Raise Your Glass was a well-written and clever little novella that packed an emotional punch the likes of which I have rarely seen.