In the opening chapter of The Goats, two outcasts, a boy and a girl, are stripped and left on an island in a cruel summer camp tradition. Though the idea is that they will jump on the opportunity and make like wild island goats, the boy and the girl instead embark on a journey in which they find each other, themselves and love before sex.
Cole pulls no punches in this startlingly sexual (yet complete devoid of actual sexual activity) story. The opening chapter reads like a rape scene. The boy and the girl, humiliated and terrified, spend the opening three chapters naked in each other's company. The boy, who the reader gathers has not quite hit puberty yet, notes that the girl has pubic hair where he does not, but no more is made of it. Cole's hand is purposeful and spare, but not overbearing. The kids maneuver their way off the island and into the world, journeying from a place of strict social hierarchy and embarrassment to a place in which they at least know they have one another.
I loved this book. The story of sexual awakening is practically ubiquitous in YA, a genre defined by coming of age stories, yet I've never read one this honest, this head on. I was shocked to find that this book was originally published in 1989, and had simply come back to our store as a new edition, though I guess I shouldn't be-- sex is sex and growing up is growing up no matter when it's written. Still, the novel holds up, and it doesn't cease to be startling, which is much more interesting to me than the shock value of a limousine deflowering scene (Gossip Girl) or a vamp's ice cold hands up the prom queen's skirt. I finished this book nearly a month ago, and haven't stopped thinking about it since. The central relationship is that complicated, the social structure is that intricately wrought, the emotional landscape is that evocative.
If I got to chose one book that I've read this year to MAKE kids 12-15 read, this would be it. Elegantly crafted, dangerously insightful, I hope this new (and much improved) cover of The Goats gets all the attention it deserves.