Saturday, January 07, 2012

The Goats

The Goats (1987) by Brock Cole had been popping up on my radar.  It seems to be one of those YA books that has an effect on people who read it as children, like The Chocolate War.  Like The Chocolate War, I somehow missed it when I was but a wee, moody, bookworm adolescent.  I suspect they hid books like these to keep us from getting ideas.  But it's just a suspicion.

In The Goats, two children are tricked by their summer-camp-mates into going to a small island, where they are briefly physically assaulted and then robbed of their clothing and left.  (An aside: my sister and I were talking about someone being assaulted within earshot of her 4 year old.  I thought he wasn't listening, but later on he spilled salt on the table, flicked it at us and said it was a' salted.)  The general idea, by the camp bullies, is that the two clumsy, unlovable outcasts would find humiliating solace in each others arms in animalistic, goat-like behavior.  The two children are, naturally, humiliated  and escape the island by swimming away and hiding out, with the intention of never returning to camp.  The girl calls her mother, who initially doesn't understand the urgency of the matter and refuses to come to the woods to pick her up.

What I found interesting as an adult reader was how Cole positions their youth and sexuality.  The children are pretty specifically pre-adolescent - the girl is described as having "[...] no breasts, just two shriveled nipples. At the bottom of her belly was a little patch of hair, like a Hitler mustache.  That meant she was more mature than he was.  He didn't have hair yet."  They spend about 3-4 days together hiding out and testing their capacity to live in the woods together.   They don't have anything approaching a sexual relationship, but their relationship is certainly sexualized.  "Covering" themselves, like Adam and Eve after The Fall, is first priority.  Of course, it could be that it's merely my interpretation of the book as focusing on their pre-sexual interactions.  The (adult?) reader is perhaps (more) aware of the children's ever-present consciousness of their sexual fragility.

The Goats really manages to tap into the no-one-understands-me element of being an adolescent, and I can easily image how it could be so impressionable on young readers.  The fantasy of hiding out/running away that's fairly appealing to young people is lived out.  For me, that book was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967), in which two children run away and hide in the Met.   In parts The Goats reminded me of Margaret Atwood's Surfacing (I need to re-read that!) in which the main character runs into the woods and tears off her clothes - if I remember correctly, she fantasizes that "fur" will grow, allowing to live in the woods without concern for frippery modern amenities like clothes.

Unlike The Hunger Games and Divergent, which I think are really engaging reads for older readers, this book is less likely to appeal to mature readers, aside from satisfying literary curiosity, like mine.  But, I should think it would be a very fine book to read and discuss with a young person.  Some parts are a bit dated... In one section, the children fall in with some kids from the city.  These African American and Latino characters are caring and wise, and fall precariously near (or in) the "Magical Negro" stereotype.  Also, I have a real pet peeve of white authors writing in the voice of exaggerated black voices.   It's not really offensive, but it felt forced.

1 comment:

Carrie said...

I missed your previous post/review about Divergent by Roth. I read in my Time mag about this book this week and added it to my list to read this year. As always, you are before the trend!