Taking Chances

Taking Chances

John Goode

In Goode’s End of the Innocence, one of the minor characters is Foster, Texas, sporting goods store owner Tyler Parker, who at nearly thirty was once a football star but whose pro career was cut short when his knee was severely injured. Matt Wallace, the youngest of Foster’s Wallace brothers football triad, crushed on Tyler in high school and is now coming back to town for the holidays. Goode, author of the wonderful Foster High YA series, successfully veers into adult romance territory in this latest book.

Since Matt came out to his family before moving to San Francisco, his mother has been excited about fixing him up with a good man. Tyler, as far as she is concerned, definitely fits the bill. Matt, who hated life in Foster, not only doesn’t want his mother interfering in his love life but dreads coming home for the holidays even though his California best friend Sophia mocks him about what could happen between him and Tyler when Matt gets there.

Tyler thinks no one knows he’s gay, but the whole town, including the jock who works for him, pretty much knows and accepts Tyler for who he is. While the story is ostensibly about how Matt and Tyler find happiness with one another, it’s also about lousy choices of best friends and confidants, and the horrible advice and jeering that these destructive friends use to bolster their own self-esteem at the cost of Matt’s and Tyler’s.

Both Tyler and Matt tried incredibly hard to appear to be straight when they were growing up, especially in high school. Unfortunately, high school, while years in the past, has left indelible marks on both of them. In order to come together successfully, both men have to readjust their self-views and come to terms with whether they care what the people of Foster, Texas, think about them or not.

While they share so much, they are completely different people. Even though he’s out, Matt is still not happy with his life or himself. As his mother points out, he was miserable in high school and is still miserable, a state she finds totally unacceptable and wants, like all mothers, to change. Matt has been marking time, hoping that someone somewhere will make him happy. He’s totally missed the point that the way to happiness is to be happy with himself.

Tyler has feared his sexuality so much that he’s been a horrible friend in the past and is on the brink of being the same kind of turncoat friend in the future as the horrible events of End of the Innocence play out. Yet Tyler is a sympathetic character because he’s spontaneously given a job to a jock teen who badly needed one and has befriended the jock and his boyfriend without question. Tyler is just trying to keep his head above water as he sees the river of town opinion rising.

What makes Matt and Tyler’s relationship more difficult is the fact that they both idolized the other in high school but were never friends. So each of them has built a body of speculation around the other. Goode knows, however, that high school infatuation and daydreaming aren’t enough to make a solid future, and that Matt and Tyler will actually have to get to know each other as real people before even the foundations for a friendship, much less romance, can be laid.

On the surface, Taking Chances looks like a simple, easy-going romance written in Goode’s smooth, readable style. But at its core, the story is a universal one about us getting to know and accept ourselves before we can hope to know and accept others, especially potential lovers. In one sense, this is the ultimate love story because it includes love of self in the equation.