The Goats

The Goats

4.5 15
by Brock Cole

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Harmless camp pranks can quickly spiral out of control, but they also provide a perfect opportunity for two social outcasts to overcome and triumph.

A boy and a girl are stripped and marooned on a small island for the night. They are the "goats." The kids at camp think it's a great joke, just a harmless old tradition. But the goats don't see it that


Harmless camp pranks can quickly spiral out of control, but they also provide a perfect opportunity for two social outcasts to overcome and triumph.

A boy and a girl are stripped and marooned on a small island for the night. They are the "goats." The kids at camp think it's a great joke, just a harmless old tradition. But the goats don't see it that way. Instead of trying to get back to camp, they decide to call home. But no one can come and get them. So they're on their own, wandering through a small town trying to find clothing, food, and shelter, all while avoiding suspicious adults—especially the police. The boy and the girl find they rather like life on their own. If their parents ever do show up to rescue them, the boy and the girl might be long gone. . . .

The Goats is a 1987 New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
One of the publisher's first titles in its new line of teen fiction is this widely praised, thought-provoking novel about two children who find inner strength under stressful circumstances. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)
School Library Journal
Gr 8-10 Wimp, nerd, social retard some kids just naturally become scapegoats. Luckily an inner strength and an ability to survive sometimes surface, and these same scapegoats can confound their parents and acquaintances. Cole portrays this when fellow campers leave wimpy Howie Mitchell and ``real dog'' Laura Golden naked and scared on an island. When counselors arrive looking for them, Howie misunderstands and fears the return of their tormenters. He forces non-swimmer Laura to hang onto a log and float to the mainland. Reaching the safety of a deserted cabin, and realizing that they can't face returning to camp, they plot their survival until Parent's Weekend, when Laura's mother will visit, offering hope of sanctuary. Cole manages to instill just the right amount of suspense in their adventures through a potentially dangerous street kid, a cleaning woman who wants to turn them in to the police, and a sheriff who eventually snags them. Neither Howie nor Laura are initially likable kids, each either worrying or whining too much, but as they grow so does one's regard for them. The final distillation is a strong, well-blended story of modern day survival. A comparable book for older readers would be Lloyd Kropp's Greencastle (Freundlich, 1987). Pam Spencer, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax County, Va.
From the Publisher

“A significant addition to the body of children's literature.” —Starred, The Horn Book

“A sensitive portrayal of that perilous time when young people are discovering their real strengths but must still bow to adult authority, a tale of underdogs triumphant, a powerful and beguiling story of survival and transformation.” —Starred, Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Age Range:
12 - 15 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Goats

By Brock Cole

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1987 Brock Cole
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-0344-2


The Island

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.

"Okay, Bryce," he said. "Cut it out." He tried to sound unafraid, even a little bored.

Bryce pulled his elbows back until they were almost touching. The boy tried to look up at the other kids. They turned their faces away, squinting out over the lake or frowning up into the trees above the beach.

"Hey," Bryce said. "Do I have to do everything?"

For a moment no one moved, and then Murphy shrugged and knelt down heavily in front of the boy. He was frowning, as if he had to do something disagreeable.

"Don't," said the boy.

Murphy pulled down his shorts. The boy's knees folded, and as he fell Bryce tugged his sweat shirt over his head. It was a new shirt. It had the camp emblem of the Tall Pine on the front. Someone sat on his knees so they could pull off his shoes and socks. Then they let him go. He scuttled sideways on his hands and knees into a thicket of reeds and fell on his side. He could hardly breathe.

"Come on, Howie," Murphy said. "You're a goat. Don't you get it?"

The boy curled up tightly, squeezing his eyes shut, waiting for the world to explode.

"I don't think he gets it," Murphy said.

The boy didn't move. He heard the canoes being shoved back into the water. There was a clatter of paddles and a loud splash. Someone laughed.

"Do you think he's okay?" Murphy whispered. No one answered.

When he was sure they were gone, the boy sat up. He was stiff, and his arms ached. His glasses had been knocked askew. He took them off, straightened one of the bows, and put them on again. His hands were shaking.

It was beginning to get dark. He couldn't see the canoes. Across the lake someone had turned on the lights at the camp boathouse. He could see the masts of the class boats swaying above the dock. They looked very far away.

"Damn," he said softly.

He didn't know what he was supposed to do now. Nobody had said. He didn't understand why they had taken his clothes and left him alone on the island. He thought that someone else would probably know what to do, but he didn't. It was because he was so out of it.

The mosquitoes were starting to bite. He had some repellent on his face and legs, but not all over. If he had known what they were planning, he would have hidden a bottle somewhere when he went to find firewood.

Slowly he got to his feet, brushing off the sand and pine needles clinging to his skin. He had never been naked outside before, and the feeling of being completely exposed was worse standing up. He wanted to crouch down again in the reeds, but he forced himself to move. There had to be something he could do.

It was a relief to find a path which led up toward the center of the island. In the shelter of the trees he felt less vulnerable. He wished it was pitch dark. He had never been afraid of the dark.

At the top of the island was an old tent platform. It had a canvas roof and sides of wood and screening. He stood at the edge of the clearing and looked at the tent platform and listened, but he couldn't hear anything except leaves rubbing against one another and the little slapping noises the waves made on the shore below. He crossed the clearing quickly and fumbled with the latch of the screen door. He was suddenly anxious to have the four walls around him.

He wasn't ready when someone inside said, "Go away."

His legs bounced him across the clearing before he could stop them, but there was nowhere to go. There was absolutely nowhere to go. He took a deep breath and walked quietly back to the door. He sat down on the steps, keeping his front hidden. He could hear someone crying inside. It sounded like a girl. She was gulping and crying at the same time.

"Hey," he said.

"I said go away."

"Hey, I can't. They took my clothes."

He waited, but there was no response.

"The mosquitoes are killing me. They really are."

Again there was no answer, but he heard a brief scuffling inside, and then the catch being released. As he pushed open the door, something black and shapeless scuttled into a corner. He didn't know what to do. He was glad it was dark inside.

"Did they leave anything?" he asked finally.

"There're some sandwiches and stuff on the table."

"I mean some blankets or clothes. I'm freezing."

"There's just one blanket."

And she had that, he thought. He felt his way to the table in the center of the room and ran his hand lightly over the surface. There was a package done up in plastic wrap, a box of matches, and something that felt like a candle lantern.

He left the table and groped his way toward a corner as far from the girl as possible. He found a cot there with a bare, damp mattress and a heavy pillow smelling of mildew. He sat down on the cot, holding the pillow on his lap.

"What are we going to do?" he asked.

"Nothing. Sit here."

"They'll probably come back in the morning."

"I know it."

He wondered what that would be like. Would they sneak up and try to peek through the screens, or would they be yelling and dancing around? He didn't know what went on in their heads. Sometimes he thought he knew, but then it turned out that he didn't.

"Hey. There's a candle lantern. I'm going to light it."


"I'm freezing, I tell you."

Holding the pillow to his front, he felt his way back to the table. By leaning against it he could keep the pillow in place while he lit the candle in the lantern.

She was huddled on the floor, completely wrapped up in a ratty old army blanket. Her face was turned away, so he couldn't see it. Her hair was stringy and damp-looking. He wondered if she was naked under the blanket. Probably she was. That would be the joke, wouldn't it? Bryce must think they would jump all over each other if they didn't have any clothes on.

He held his hands over the lantern. They burned but didn't seem to get warm. On the table beside the sandwiches was a deck of playing cards. They were the dirty ones that Arnold Metcalf showed around to his friends. The boy had never seen them up close. He hadn't wanted anyone to know he was interested. Now he didn't want to look at them. The top card had a picture of a man and a woman crumpled together. It had nothing to do with him. It was about as interesting as a picture of a dentist drilling a tooth.

Bryce must be crazy. Arnold Metcalf and Murphy — they were all crazy. Trying to guess what went on in their crazy heads was wearing him out. He retreated to the bed and sat down again, still holding the pillow over his front.

"We're the goats, I guess," he said, hoping she could explain what was happening to them.


"So nothing."

She still wouldn't look at him, but he could see who it was now. He couldn't remember her name. She was one of the real dogs. Bryce had classified all the girls into queens, princesses, dogs, and real dogs. Bryce should never have called her a real dog. He should never have called anyone a dog, because it made you think he looked like a dog himself. A big pink bulldog. Still, she shouldn't wear big designer glasses if her eyes were so bad. If you had thick glasses, they became thicker and thicker the bigger they were. His ophthalmologist had told him that.

He was beginning to feel hungry. He wondered if it would be safe to eat the sandwiches, but he decided not to. They might have put dope or something like that in them.

"I thought this was supposed to be a cookout," he said, trying to laugh. "We brought hot dogs and stuff." He remembered telling the others that they didn't have enough hot dogs. He had even argued about it, as if he was the only one who could count. Bryce had agreed and said that they were lucky he was such a brain. What a fool he had been.

"What did they tell you?" he asked.

She reached out a skinny brown arm and picked at a piece of rotten screen over her head.

"They told me Julie Christiansen was going to be the goat. We were all supposed to come out and go skinny-dipping, and then we were going to lose her."

He didn't know what to say. She was an even bigger jerk than he was, thinking that Julie Christiansen could ever be a goat. He wondered why she would tell a story that made her look so dumb.

"I thought they liked me," she said, and started to cry again.

"Hey," he said.

"Shut up."

He shut up. He was beginning to feel really cold. His jaw shuddered, and he felt goose bumps break out on his arms. He studied the top of her head in the dim light from the lantern, trying to guess what kind of person she was.

"I'm really cold," he said. "Do you want to split the blanket? Maybe we could find something to cut it with."

She looked at him for the first time. Her glasses made her eyes look little and close together. He could tell she hated him, so he looked away.

There was a fireplace at one end of the tent platform. There wasn't any wood, but he could gather some sticks and pinecones outside. He could build a fire. He could use Arnold's dirty playing cards to start it, but he didn't know how he'd hold on to the pillow at the same time.

"How are you going to act tomorrow?" he asked after a while.

She shrugged, pulling down a big piece of the screen. He wished she wouldn't do that. There were enough mosquitoes inside, anyway.

"I mean, do you think we should act like we thought it was a joke, or what?"

She started crying again. It was awful to have to sit there and watch her cry.

"What ..." he said carefully, trying to think of something that would quiet her down. "What if we weren't here when they came back?"

"What do you mean? Where'd we go?"

"What if we swam over to the shore? We could sneak back to camp and get some clothes, and then just act like nothing had happened."

"That's nuts. It's miles to shore."

"No, it isn't. I bet I could swim that far." He was beginning to feel enthusiastic about his plan, although he didn't believe himself that they could do it. It was good to think about, though. He could see those jerks when he walked into breakfast, acting as if nothing had happened at all. They would want to know how he'd gotten back, but they wouldn't be able to ask, and he would just say something witty about the eggs. He'd say, "Hey! This is the same egg I got yesterday." Something like that.

"It's a dumb idea, and anyway, I can't swim very well."

"Come on. There's a big log down on the shore. I saw it when I was getting wood for the cookout. We could shove it in and paddle over."

"No, I said. I don't want to talk about it anymore." Her nose was running, and there wasn't anything for her to wipe it with but her fingers.

"Well," he said, "I'm going to build a fire. Do you want to help?"

She pulled the blanket back up over her head. He could freeze to death and she wouldn't care. He sidled over to the door, keeping the pillow over his front in case she tried to look.

Outside, it was very dark now. He could hear the mosquitoes drifting around his head. Their feathery wings brushed against his bare skin. He dropped his pillow on the steps and tried to work fast, dodging the insects and feeling for pinecones with his toes. He couldn't hold very many at a time. He'd have to make about a million trips unless he found something bigger.

When he heard the noise he dropped everything he had picked up and listened. He didn't hear it again, but he knew what it was. The sound of a paddle knocking against the gunwale of a canoe. He took a couple of steps toward the tent platform, and then turned and hustled back down the path until he could see over the lake toward the camp.

The moon was just showing, getting ready to set, but there was enough light to turn the lake silver. He could make out one, no two, dark shapes coming toward the island. They were still some distance away.

She looked up, startled, when he pushed open the door. He realized that he'd forgotten to find his pillow, and so he covered himself with both hands.

"Listen. They're coming back."


"They're coming back. Some of them, anyway."

"Oh, God, Oh, God ..." She pulled the blanket over her head and started crying again.

"Stop it, will you? They'll hear!"

"I don't care," she said in a muffled voice, but she quieted down.

"Come on, then. We've got to get out of here."

"What do you mean?"

"What do you mean, what do I mean? Do you want to be here when they come?"

She thought about it. "They wouldn't hurt us or anything, would they? They'll probably just sneak up or something."

He couldn't believe that she was so feeble.

"What's the matter with you? Do you want them spying on us?"

She shook her head, her rubbery face going all out of shape again.

"Well, then, listen. We'll go down to the shore, and when they come sneaking up, we'll grab their canoes. We'll leave them here. They'll be the goats, don't you get it?"

It seemed to sink in finally.

"What'll we do?" she asked, trying to get up without letting the blanket open.

"Just come on and be quiet."

"Shall we put out the candle?"

"No," he said after a moment's thought. "They'll come up slow if they see the light. It'll give us more time."

Once outside, he forgot about keeping himself covered up. It was dark and not important anymore. It was the others he cared about. They weren't going to see him if he could help it. He grabbed a corner of her blanket and led the way down the path. She held on as if he was trying to take it away from her.

Near the shore they pushed through some brush until they found a place to hide in a clump of black alder at the water's edge. They were a safe distance from the little beach. He decided it would be easier to wade over to the canoes than try to push their way back through the bushes, so he pulled her down close to the water.

The canoes were near the shore now. He could see that there were only four people. He didn't like that. It seemed more menacing, as if something was planned which had to be kept secret, even from the others who had left him on the island. He began to feel weak inside.

The girl was snuffling beside him.

"Be quiet," he whispered.

"It's the mosquitoes. They're in my mouth, everything."

"I said be quiet." He fumbled in the blanket until he found her hand and squeezed it hard. He wanted to believe he could hurt someone if he had to.

The people in the canoes beached them without a sound. It was too dark to see who they were, but they were big. They huddled together for a moment, whispering, and then two of them broke away and disappeared up the path.

The others stayed by the canoes. One of them lit a cigarette, and the other picked something up from the beach and flicked it out over the water. The boy heard a soft plunk! plunk! plunk! The person was skipping stones.

The boy waited, but he didn't know what he was waiting for anymore. His beautiful plan was coming apart like wet paper. He and the girl could never get the canoes away from the guards on the beach.

His brain seemed to have stopped working. He didn't know what he was going to do. He had never been so cold in his life. He wondered what was going to happen to them.

"There're some people still there," the girl whispered. "What do we do now?" She didn't sound sarcastic. She wanted to know. The cold seemed to solidify into a hard little lump somewhere deep inside him.

"Come on," he whispered, putting his lips close to her ear. "We've got to get away. We're going down into the water."

"But I can't swim, I told you."

"You won't have to. There's that log I told you about. I'll push you."

The water felt warm, warmer than the air. It made him feel better. He moved quietly, not making any splashes. When he was a few feet out, crouching so that only his head showed, he looked back to see if she was coming.

She came down into the water still wrapped in her blanket, and then let it drift away.

It didn't take long for them to work their way along the shore until the canoes were out of sight. The girl was clutching at him, afraid of the water. He could feel it in her stiff fingers digging into his shoulder.

They found the log just as the moon was setting. There was nothing but starlight now to show the shape of the distant shore. It looked black and lumpy, like a pile of coal.

He dragged the log into the water, trying to be as quiet as he could. It floated awfully low. He wondered if it could actually support them. Overhead, the beam of a flashlight flickered amid the treetops and was gone.

"Come on, now. Don't try to ride it. Just hold on."

He transferred her grasping hands to the wood. She was making too much noise, gasping and trying to hold her head high out of the water.


Excerpted from The Goats by Brock Cole. Copyright © 1987 Brock Cole. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

BROCK COLE is the author of several highly acclaimed novels as well as the author and illustrator of many picture books, including Good Enough to Eat, Buttons, and Larky Mavis. He's also the illustrator of George Washington's Teeth, available from Square Fish. He lives in Buffalo, New York.

Of his first novel, The Goats, Anita Silvey wrote in a Horn Book Magazine editorial, "The Goats reaffirms my belief that children's literature is alive and thriving." Betsy Hearne, editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, lauded it as "one of the most important books of the decade."

Brock Cole was born a year before the Second World War in a small town in Michigan. Because of his father's work, his family moved frequently, but he never regarded these relocations as a hardship.
"I thought of myself as something of an explorer, even though my explorations never took me very far. I had a deep and intimate acquaintance with woodlots, creeks, lakes, back streets, and alleys all over the Midwest."

He attended Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and received a doctorate from the University of Minnesota. After teaching philosophy for several years at the University of Wisconsin, he began writing and illustrating books for children.

"I had always wanted to write, and I loved to draw. I had small children, who were a wonderful audience. Children's books seemed a perfect fit."

His first book, The King at the Door, was published in 1979. Among his other picture books are The Winter Wren, The Giant's Toe, and Alpha and the Dirty Baby.

He now lives in Buffalo, New York, where his wife, Susan, teaches at the State University of New York. His sons both live in Athens, Georgia. Joshua teaches French history at the University of Georgia, and Tobiah is a painter and works as a waiter. Joshua is married to Kate Tremel, a potter and a teacher, and they have a little boy named Lucas.

Brock Cole's acclaimed first novel, The Goats, was published in 1987. It is set in the Michigan countryside of his childhood and captures the story of two loners' struggle for self-identity and inner strength after being made the targets of a cruel prank. In a Horn Book Magazine editorial, Anita Silvey wrote: "The Goats reaffirms my belief that children's literature is alive and thriving." Betsy Hearne, editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, lauded The Goats as "one of the most important books of the decade."

In Brock Cole's second novel, Celine, sixteen-year-old Celine, a budding artist, is living with her young stepmother, only six years older than Celine herself, while her father is teaching in Europe. Celine dreams of escaping this situation, but she becomes involved with caring for Jake, her seven-year-old neighbor, who is going through his parents' divorce.

Since he began his writing career, Brock Cole and his wife have traveled a good deal, living for one year in Washington and another in Germany, as well as spending frequent summers in Greece and Turkey.

"To be honest, I simply tag along after Susan. It's her research which takes us all over the place. I enjoy it immensely, though. There's something about sitting down to work at a rickety table in a strange city that clears the head. It's the best thing for a writer, or for this one, anyway."

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The Goats 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book and thought that it described the issues that teens face daily in detail very well. the things that went on in this book like the boy and girl getting left alone on an island, and the things the girl and boy did to avoid going back to camp kept me interested and showed what teens will do to avoid critisism very well. You start off reading thinking that this book is going to be another teen book about a couple of nerdy kids being made fun of but actually gets a lot deeper as the story moves on and the characters grown on you and really show how down to earth kids that age can be. Anyways i recommend that you read this book, it will not be time wasted, you can really get a lot out of it and plus it is a very short book that only takes a couple of days at the most to read. Enjoy
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was very good. it had to do with many things that could happen in real life. the 2 children were stranded on the island and they were really nervois. they got tricked. and then the children escaped from the island and broke into the peoples house to get the kids back and scare them.I believe that Brock cole did a wonderful job in capturing the essence of survival among peers. anyways the book was pretty darn good and i would suggest reading this book because its pretty short and only takes about a day to read. Holla at ya boy Mr. Geoghagen
Guest More than 1 year ago
the goats was a book i read in 3rd grade,which was not fit for my age but it was a good book
Guest More than 1 year ago
It was a great book. Brock Cole was so good hiding the important detailes from the reader.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was super good but i also liked the movie based upon the book. Its called Standing Up and its on Netflix. Watch it!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow wow wow
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the book as well as the movie. (Btw if you want to watch the movie its on netflix its name is Standing Up)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the movie
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story hits so many issues concerning the 'initiation' into adolescence, it would be hard to list them all. Wonderfully drawn characters, a poignant fast paced plot. I only wish I could know what happend to these two kids. They certainly had new senses of who and what they were coming through this ordeal. I think this is an important book for readers of all ages.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'The Goats' is a thought-provoking novel that makes you feel guilty for ever even thinking about doing something like that at summer camp. I think the characters were very believable, even if what they managed to do wasn't. At first, you think [about Laura and Howie], 'My God, what nerds,' but they grow on you as you learn more and more about them. Brock Cole did an excellent job of portraying the feelings of young teenage misfits.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Overall i thought this was a pretty good book. The only thing i didn't like about the book was that what the characters were doing was so unrealistic. Besides that, the book was funny, suspenseful, and a good book to read.