HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Goats
Author and Illustrator: Brock Cole
Publisher: Farrar Straus and Giroux, republished 1990
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Said to be for ages 8-12 but I would say 13-16
Rating: *** 3 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Cole, Brock. The Goats (Published in 1987 by Sunburst Books, a division of Farrar Straus and Giroux). Howard (Howie) Mitchell and Laura Golden, both about thirteen years old, are at summer camp. Howie’s parents are archaeologists and are in Turkey, while Laura’s mother is divorced and must work long hours. Both youngsters are considered social misfits. According to an old, annual camp hazing prank, they are declared to be “the goats” by their fellow campers, stripped naked, and marooned on Goat Island overnight as a practical joke played on campers who don’t fit in. However, the two escape during the night and decide to disappear completely. On the run, they are forced to lie, steal, and dodge the police as they search for safety. Along the way, the pair meet many different people, some who help them and others who try to stop them. Where can they go? What happens to them? And do they ever make it back? As is true of nearly all modern children’s literature considered “relevant,” this book has the obligatory cursing (both the “d” and “h” words) and profanity (Laura especially uses “my God” or “Oh God” as exclamations a lot), along with some near-vulgar terms for body parts and functions and other forms of foul language. There are also references to smoking cigarettes (even by teens), Laura’s period, using tampons, and a “prostitute’s underwear.”
Publishers Weekly called it “a gripping, startling and thought-provoking story about children who find inner strength when they are pushed to the edge.” However, one parent wrote, “I would caution any adult to think twice before purchasing this book for a child….My eleven year old daughter brought this book home from her classroom library. What she read made her very uncomfortable. It embarrassed her. I read it and was surprised that Brock Cole thought his young readers needed a graphically descriptive passage about the nude body of his main character, Laura, by his other main character, Howie. I am surprised any adult that read this book could think it is a wonderful adventure story of overcoming obstacles to share with a young person.” I can thoroughly understand these qualms. Yet, to this, someone else responded, “I am amazed that there are naive people out there who use such terms as ‘explicit,’ ‘sexual,’ or even ‘inappropriate’ in relation to this book’s content. I suppose you could call it ‘frank.’ but I would think that this book is mild in comparison to 5th/6th grade playground talk. I think by this age most kids are pretty sure what the other sex–and there are only two of them, physically–looks like. If not, then they are going to look whenever they can; if they don’t, then I’d be a little worried.”
Such a response doesn’t take into consideration that godly parents who are seeking to rear their children in the nurture of the Lord definitely have the right to be concerned about their children’s reading material. To be fair, nothing overtly sexual occurs in the story. However, there is a subtle, underlying tension that seems to lean in that direction. Even though the conclusion is ultimately satisfying and I would not conclude that it is completely bad, I basically did not care for the book. I will be the first to say that it is “well written.” It had no trouble attracting and holding my attention. But the real question becomes, “Is it worth it?” I am reminded of Cecil B. DeMille’s adage that if a movie isn’t worth doing in the first place, it isn’t worth doing well. So I have to ask, “Why would an author even want to convey such a plot?” And I don’t have a satisfactory answer. So that is where I have to leave it. Except to say that I am amazed at some people’s tendency to hyperbole. The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books said, “One of the most important books of the decade.” I assume that this refers to the 1980s when it was published. But I can think of dozens of books from that era which I consider more important.