Good Kids

By Benjamin Nugent

(Scribner, $23, 224 pages)

Who is this author?

Benjamin Nugent, who grew up in Amherst, Mass., is Director of Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University, where he teaches fiction and nonfiction in its MFA and undergraduate programs. He has contributed nonfiction pieces to The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, and n+1, and the periodical Tin House has published his fiction. He was an Iowa Arts Fellow at the  prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

What is this book about?

A teenage boy and girl see something shocking in the natural foods store in their Massachusetts town. No, not highly processed junk food: what they see is his dad kissing her mom. And poof, there go two marriages down the drain. The devastated teens swear a vow: they’ll never ever cheat on someone they love. And they keep that vow – until temptation unexpectedly arises years later when they meet again at age 28 and chemistry kicks in, despite the fact that each of them is engaged.

Why you’ll like it:

Nugent has a good ear for the way kids who are part of Generation Y and their Baby-Boomer parents talk, and that lends weight to this tale. This novel explores the complexities of modern parenting, the powerful pull of infatuation, the difficulties of being loyal and other dilemmas of contemporary relationships, and satirizes some of the excesses of  the liberal pieties that flourish in an academic setting. You may not always like the characters he has created, but chances are you will recognize their types.

What others are saying:

Library Journal says: “At 15, Josh and Khadijah are “good kids,” eager to please their respective parents—until they discover that Josh’s dad is having an affair with Khadijah’s mother. They make an impulsive vow never to cheat on anyone. Fast-forward a decade or so: Josh is the underemployed former guitarist of a one-hit-wonder band, engaged to a successful television personality. Khadijah is the long-distance fiancée of one of Josh’s acquaintances. Their paths cross, and suddenly they must revisit their feelings for each other and their commitment to fidelity. The novel ends as a bittersweet rumination on accepting a parent’s shortcomings and not letting them define you. VERDICT: Nugent is a playful, stylish author with a flair for chapter titles, such as “I Don’t Even Try To Think of Anyone in Terms of Categories Like That.” … fans of the author’s memoir, American Nerd, will be curious about his fiction debut.”

“This dazzling first novel is many things at once: an incisive examination of class and politics, a richly comic portrayal of humiliation and self-loathing, and a guided tour of love in its varied forms. Benjamin Nugent’s writing is alive with intelligence, authenticity, and angst. Fans of Jonathan Franzen, you just may have found your new favorite writer,” says Curtis Sittenfeld, author of “Prep” and “American Wife.”

“Beware the God-like authorial power of fantasizing, runs the inescapable admonition throughout this novel, for it can damage your flexibility in real life, where you lack the ability to fashion people according to your whims. By the time we hit the denouement, “Good Kids” has emerged as a modest modern-day rebuttal of the fairy tale romance,” says the Boston Globe.

“Nearly every film adaptation of “Wuthering Heights” omits the latter parts of the novel, which show how the emotional failings of  one generation can wreak havoc on the next. Benjamin Nugent’s fiction debut, “Good Kids,” focuses on that second part, how the second generation responds to the emotional trauma and either fights against it or falls victim to it in the same way,” says Kevin McFarland for The A.V. Club.

When is it available?

It’s available now at the Albany and Mark Twain branches of the Hartford Public Library.

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