Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Review: "Good Kids" by Benjamin Nugent

To slightly corrupt a cliché, the sins of the parents are visited upon the children. Josh Paquette and Khadijah Silverglate-Dunn are 15-year-old high school classmates who one afternoon spy Josh's father kissing Khadijah's mother in a natural foods store. The realization that their parents are having an affair creates a strange bond and a tenuous friendship between the two, although Josh finds himself wanting more from their relationship. One afternoon the two sign a vow never to cheat while in a relationship, and although Khadijah and her mother move away from town shortly thereafter, both are committed to keeping this vow.

As he enters adulthood, Josh finds himself becoming a musician, drawn into any world that doesn't resemble his father's socialist-leaning life in which dreams are talked about constantly but never pursued. Josh follows his new band to Los Angeles, and after the semi-successful group breaks up a few years later, he meets Julie, the host of a wry animal show on a local cable network. After a series of comical miscommunications, the two begin a serious relationship which survives the couple's serious-but-playful banter as well as Josh's inability to pursue any type of career. (He's able to sustain himself somewhat on royalty checks from his band's one hit song, which is used frequently in the entertainment world.)

Soon, the two get engaged and plan a future together, complete with three children. But the strains of coming from two different backgrounds start to pull at them, and their problems aren't helped when Khadijah, whom Josh hasn't seen in 13 years, comes to Los Angeles to visit her fianc&233;, one of Josh'a acquaintances. Both are committed to keeping the vow they made when they were teenagers, but the tug of fascination with their past and what could have been make keeping those vows more difficult than they imagined.

"It's better if you don't place your faith in a vision of how things are going to be," Josh says. "The shock of what happens can be superior to any concept you had in your head at the start."

I really enjoyed this book, and thought Benjamin Nugent did a great job laying out the story and creating interesting, complex characters. (Most of them, at least.) I really liked the beginning and the end of the book, as I was intrigued by how Josh and Khadijah's discovery of their parents' infidelity and the aftermath of this discovery would unfold, and when they encountered each other again as adults, I wondered whether Nugent would surprise me. I felt parts of the book dragged a bit, mainly those involving Josh's father, whom I found immensely irritating and one-note. But Josh's struggles have many layers, and even though I don't tend to like characters who seem somewhat rudderless in their lives, I was completely engaged in his story.

It's amazing how many ways relationships can go, even when they're succeeding or failing. Nugent is a wry observer of human foibles, particularly where relationships are concerned, and I look forward to seeing what else he comes up with in the future.

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