Cole, B. (1987). The Goats. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
When campers do a mean prank to two outsider thirteen-year-olds by stranding them naked on an island, the bullied boy and girl decide to escape the island and not return to the camp. The journey that follows feels like a Gary Paulsen book set a few miles closer to civilization.
More than anything the boy and the girl (as they are referred to throughout most of the book) seem to desire control over their lives and respect from the people they must deal with. Throughout the book, they gradually grow from victims to rule breakers to confident friends who are committed to each other. As thirteen-year-olds, both the boy and the girl are dealing with issues of sexual awakening.
It is also worth noting that the story is told from multiple perspectives. Readers see overlaps of accounts of events not only from the perspectives of the boy and the girl, but also from the perspective of the girl’s mother.
The book also contains subtle references to works of art and Greek gods and considers, to some extent, issues of race and class.
As a person who has spent a number of summers at camps, I must admit I had ‘suspension of disbelief’ issues with the camp administrators and with one of the mother’s reactions to two campers going missing. Other struggles include the fact that the narrative is a little dated (pre-cell phones, pre-credit cards).
Activities to do with the book:
This would be a good book to use to begin a discussion on bullying or victimization.
Some of the plot points could likely trigger a strong emotional response from readers at one of several points in the narrative, so it could be used with particularly taciturn students to get them sharing their opinions.
“When he came back to the beach with wood for the fire Bryce grabbed him from behind. The firewood scattered, bouncing off his knees and shins” (p. 3).
“What…” he said carefully, trying to think of something that would quiet her down. “What if we weren’t here when they came back?” (p. 10).