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Good Kids: A Novel

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Overview

At fifteen, Josh Paquette and Khadijah Silverglate-Dunn catch Josh’s father and Khad ijah’s mother kissing in a natural foods store. As both of their families fall apart, the teenagers sign a pact never to cheat on anyone, ever. They have no problem keeping the vow—until they meet again at twentyeight, both struggling with career and identit y, and both engaged to other people.

Acclaimed author Benjamin Nugent’s fiction debut is a hilarious, sad, handsomely plotted story of love...

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Good Kids: A Novel

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Overview

At fifteen, Josh Paquette and Khadijah Silverglate-Dunn catch Josh’s father and Khad ijah’s mother kissing in a natural foods store. As both of their families fall apart, the teenagers sign a pact never to cheat on anyone, ever. They have no problem keeping the vow—until they meet again at twentyeight, both struggling with career and identit y, and both engaged to other people.

Acclaimed author Benjamin Nugent’s fiction debut is a hilarious, sad, handsomely plotted story of love and class. Stylistically adventurous but always accessible, Nugent trains a keen ear on the vernaculars of Generation Y and the baby boomers, as the young and middle-aged try to decide what parenting, background, and loyalty mean in an America struggling to redefine virtue.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Josh and Khadijah are growing up in a Massachusetts town populated by academics and ex-hippies and white people who named their daughters Khadijah during their Sufi phase, in Nugent’s unimpressive debut novel (after American Nerd, a memoir). Though they attend the same high school, what links the two is the discovery that their parents are having an affair; when both their parents’ marriages break up, Khadijah moves away before Josh can pursue his crush on her. The story starts there, then flashes forward a decade, to Los Angeles, where Josh is trying to figure out what to do now that his semisuccessful band has broken up. He has a fiancée, Julie, on whom, following the dictates of the vow he and Khadijah took when they were 15, he’s never cheated. Then Khadijah comes to town. It’s not a bad setup, and the book, with a fine, rooted sense of place, has charm and humor, just not enough. Josh and Julie communicate in self-aware banter (“now we could perform for each other without worrying if the performance was original,” Josh says); Josh’s mother and sister feel like pat Eastern liberals, complete with Buddhism, do-gooder jobs, Jungian psychology, and discussions of male privilege; his father is a set of irksome quirks, and the eventual playing out of his relationship with Khadijah makes sense, but fails to surprise. (Jan.)
Boston Globe
“[A] modern-day rebuttal of the fairy tale romance.”
Harper's
“Nugent has an excellent ear for the clashing notes of our popular cacophony.”
USA Today - Lindsay Deutsch
“Benjamin Nugent's fiction debut represents my Millennial generation perfectly…. a spot-on portrayal.”
From the Publisher
“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.” —Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Prep and American Wife

Good Kids is the work of a writer with a great gift for comic timing. There's so much life and love in this book, all its failure, all its accidental glory. A superb first novel, as funny as it is ultimately moving.” —Peter Orner, author of Love and Shame and Love

“Benjamin Nugent’s Good Kids is a literary romantic comedy, a post-sentimental sentimental education, and a cautionary tale for both divorced parents and their kids who vow never to be like them. It is terrifically smart and funny—and catchy, like a hit song. Reader, pace yourself.” —Michelle Huneven, author of Blame

Library Journal
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." Unfortunately, Josh's relationship with his celebrity fiancée doesn't resonate: the two seem distant and analytical, with no real warmth between them. Nugent includes a few nonsensical illustrations that do not add to the narrative. Still, fans of the author's memoir, American Nerd, will be curious about his fiction debut. [See Prepub Alert, 7/30/12.]—Christine Perkins, Bellingham P.L., WA
Kirkus Reviews
Can a childhood crush survive a 13-year separation? The answer's a long time coming in this unfocused first novel from the author of American Nerd (2008). Josh and Khadijah, 15-year-old classmates in central Massachusetts in 1994, spy on his dad and her mom smooching in the candy aisle of the supermarket. Their furtive observation draws them together, and narrator Josh, whose story this is, happily goes along with Khadijah's suggestion that they sign a solemn vow they will never cheat in their future relationships. Khadijah (a white American girl, despite her exotic name) follows up by throwing a rock at a bank window; this act of rebellion triggers a family crisis, and soon enough, two happy homes have broken up, Khadijah has been whisked away to Cambridge, and Josh has lost his potential high school sweetheart. The story lurches forward. A year later, the two adulterous parents, Linus and Nancy, have broken up themselves, and flaky Linus already has a new girlfriend with a superrich daddy. That's just as well, for Linus has quit his teaching job and has no visible means of support. Another lurch forward, and it's 2006. Josh, an NYU dropout who has spent six years playing bass with a recently defunct Los Angeles rock band, meets Julie, well-paid host of an animal show on cable. She's an Armenian/Persian mix; Josh is "Judeo-Hibernian." He becomes a freeloader like his dad, but at least he's kept his "no cheating" vow. Then Khadijah appears out of the blue, the fiancee of a music journalist. The climax is no more believable than its antecedents. A novel that badly wants to be cool but is rarely more than sophomoric.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439136591
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 1/29/2013
  • Pages: 211
  • Sales rank: 761,226
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Benjamin Nugent's nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, and n+1, and his fiction has appeared in Tin House. He holds an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was an Iowa Arts fellow. Director of Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University, he teaches fiction and nonfiction in its MFA and undergraduate programs. He grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

1.

We’re Not Going to Get Thrown in a Van

The Dads were a man and a woman. They were my father, Linus, and Khadijah’s mother, Nancy. Khadijah called them the Dads because, in her family, Nancy played the traditional paternal role. She spent more time at work than Khadijah’s father, she made more money, she was harder to talk to. She was a Dad. And my father was a Dad.

To explain why we needed a name for the pair of them, I’ll start with the Friday that Khadijah and I, with our respective Dads, ran into each other at Gaia Foods. The Day of the Dads.

It was early March, Language Day at Wattsbury Regional. As sophomores active in language clubs—I, Russian; Khadijah, French—we both manned tables, selling borscht and mousse outside the cafeteria after school. We never spoke during Language Day, although our tables stood five feet apart. All I knew about Khadijah was that she was third-tier popular, all academics, no sports, no theater, no newspaper, an organized girl who recorded homework assignments in apple green pen in high-quality notebooks, and that her deceptively black-sounding name, pronounced Kah-DEE-jah, was a product of Nancy’s Sufi years.

My father picked me up after we collapsed the tables at five, and we stopped at Gaia on the way home, for dinner essentials, wine, and ice cream. After Nancy picked up Khadijah, they stopped at Gaia too. While I was trying to show my father how smart I was by making an argument about how many pears he should buy versus how many grapes for a fruit salad, I saw Nancy and Khadijah hovering by bananas.

An astute observer probably would have seen there was something weird between Nancy and my father right away. But I was only fifteen. I was stupid when it came to interpreting the behavior of the Dads. It’s strange: When you’re trying to impress a person, you can’t see that person well. And Khadijah and I, we longed to impress the Dads.

I noticed nothing unusual in the Dads’ body language or in their faces. My father reached out and laid his hand on the pears peeking from Nancy’s wicker basket, looked her in the eye, and said, “They’re fresh today.”

The gesture did not strike me as remarkable. I found it mysterious, but my father was a sophisticated person. Everything he did was mysterious.

“Sometimes,” he hastened to explain, looking at Khadijah and me, stroking his beard, “the fruit at Gaia is slightly rotten. That’s the dark side of organic. Everything isn’t spritzed with poisons to make it look neat.”

I was, myself, as odorous as aging fruit. My parents were hippies. They had not spritzed me with poisons to make me look neat. My blond, shoulder-length hair was triangular, because while I knew there was a hair product called conditioner, I didn’t know that conditioner was what people used to make hair lie down. I hadn’t acquired the habit of shaving my ghost mustache or wiping the fingerprints off the lenses of my glasses. I wanted to be like my father, who taught political science, who knew how to talk about capitalism in such a way that people either agreed heartily with him or looked personally affronted and concerned for their safety. I wanted his air of rebellion and authority, his shaggy, dark hair and revolutionary beard. But I didn’t know how to turn myself into him. I was wearing one of his blousy, long-sleeved shirts from the early seventies that I’d discovered in our attic, green with wooden buttons, and the consequence was that I smelled as if I were kept in an attic.

Khadijah, by contrast, had the grooming and bearing of a girl with a hands-on mother. She stood straight and still. The burgundy scrunchie that held her brown ponytail matched the trim of her Esprit socks. But for all the inorganic, detail-oriented parenting lavished on her, she was almost as awkward as I was, no surer of how to start a conversation. When the Dads asked for some time to chat by themselves, she tensed at the prospect of being left alone with me. We both doubted, I think, that we could find something to talk about.

“You hooligans won’t cudgel each other, if we wander a little?” My father thumped a box of Finnish crackers against his palm. “You can keep yourselves entertained?”

“Five minutes?” Nancy asked us, edging toward my father. “Maybe ten? You see, my chickens, a mutual friend of ours is in the hospital.” Nancy had managed to tame her hair, I noticed, the way I longed to tame mine—it formed a neat, soft bell behind her face, like Tom Petty’s. She batted aside one strand with impatient, bony fingers.

“Go, Mom, it’s Gaia,” said Khadijah, picking at her cuticles. “We’re not going to get thrown in a van and sold into sex slavery.”

The Dads shot around a corner and vanished. At first there was only silence. But eventually, Khadijah turned to face me with a solution to our not knowing what to do with each other, using semipopular girl instincts I lacked: “Should we spy on them?”

I said yes. “I’m so bored,” we both said. But I think the reason we spied on them, aside from the need to kill awkwardness with action, was that we suspected something. We were in tenth grade; it was strange they’d felt the need to ask us if we’d be okay while they spoke in private. We just didn’t suspect that we suspected something.

Trolling the aisles, we sighted the grown-ups in Candy. Nancy was slouching in order to better inspect an item on a chest-high shelf. My father was scratching his beard as if he was looking at art.

“What we need is a hiding place,” said Khadijah. She snapped her fingers. “The African-American History Month thing.”

The African-American History Month display sat at the aisle’s mouth, fifteen feet from where my father stood speaking with Nancy. It consisted of two tables pushed together and covered with kente cloths. February was over; like the produce, the display had been kept out too long. The tables were poorly aligned, and the cloths sagged in the gap between them. A traditional African-American cookbook and an Ethiopian cookbook remained upright, but a third volume had toppled over. There was something foreboding about this structure. Something told me that, if Khadijah and I hid inside it, like children in a fairy tale, we would have a hard time getting back out, would require a trail of crumbs. Before we could discuss the pros and cons, Khadijah crept. She slipped between the kente cloths and vanished beneath the tables, and I had no honorable choice but to follow.

We were on our hands and knees in the dark, cheek to cheek, almost touching. I smelled Khadijah’s vanilla shampoo, and my own stale shirt. I made a promise to myself: I will never emit this scent again. We peered through the gap between the maroon kente cloth and the green kente cloth, drawing them aside like stage curtains. My father and Nancy faced each other in the candy aisle, oblivious. We watched the show.

My father did something astonishing. He took a candy bar and slipped it in the pocket of his quilted corduroy barn jacket. He was going to steal it. Nancy whacked him on the shoulder with the back of her hand, and he put the candy bar back on the shelf. Next he took a large, glistening gift bag of chocolate and shoved it halfway into the same pocket. Nancy whacked him harder; he put it back.

Then he took a paper bag of cookies down from the shelf as Nancy dealt little blows to his shoulder. He made a show of trying to stuff the bag into the pocket, until it ripped open at the corner, and bled cookies on the floor. Nancy crossed her arms. My father tried to gather the cookies and hold the broken bag at the same time.

“Linus,” said Nancy, “you clumsy outlaw.”

My father arranged the fallen cookies in a little pile on the shelf and slid the mutilated bag back into place. After he’d brushed the crumbs from his fingers, he reached down and tipped up Nancy’s chin. I could only assume that he would restore the chin to its original position, as he had everything else he had taken in his hands. He would put Nancy back, just as he had put back the chocolate and the cookies. Nancy stared up at him and dropped her hands to her sides like a child. That was when he kissed her, full on the lips. She kissed back, hungry. It was probably because of the sweets all around them, but one of my first thoughts was that they were eating each other.

Khadijah and I said nothing. Our faces were almost touching in the dark. We jerked away from the gap in the kente cloths, and my head struck the underside of the metal table.

“Why would your dad do that?” she demanded, finally. She was breathing hard. “My mom is married to my dad.”

“My dad is married too, to my mom,” I pointed out. “Your mom kissed him back.”

“I’m going to go out there and ask them what’s going on.”

“I predict that question will prove unacceptable to them.” Even in this moment of father-related crisis, I tried to speak with my father’s gravitas.

“My poor dad,” Khadijah said. There were tears in her round brown eyes.

“Just because your mom kissed my dad doesn’t mean, necessarily, that they’re screwing.” This was my idea, at the time, of being comforting. I sent a thought out to my father: If you are screwing, I will cut off your dick and give it to Mom on a sword. Then, immediately afterward: I’m sure there is a good reason for this. It’s only a kiss, I thought. Nothing else.

“I hate your dad,” Khadijah said.

“This isn’t necessarily anything.” In truth I felt it was beyond doubt that my father, who had held me on his shoulders on marches he’d organized for divestment from South Africa, had a more nuanced moral understanding of the situation than we did, and was doing the right thing, even if it looked wrong. “I repeat, all they’re doing is kissing. Why should we make an assumption?”

The kente cloths lifted slightly when a brisk walker passed by. I knew from the acknowledgment of Kwanzaa at school that the cloths were used for sacred rites, by the Akan people.

“I wouldn’t want to kiss that beard,” Khadijah said, her face pressed against her legs.

“Your mom dresses Republican,” I responded. “That’s one of those lady blazers.”

“Your dad dresses like a homeless person.” She was actually sobbing now. “He’s in public but he’s wearing sweatpants.”

“Don’t cry,” I said. “It’s going to be okay.” It was something I had learned to say from movies, but I meant it.

Khadijah was always pretty, but crying, she was so beautiful my face was going to burn off. I found the discovery that tears enhanced beauty nearly as disorienting as everything else that was going on. At any rate, I realized it might be acceptable to reach out and touch Khadijah, now that I had told her not to cry. I laid my hand on her head. When she didn’t object I stroked her hair slowly. I liked the feeling of doing this too much to stop.

She jerked her head back. “I think that maybe I should tell my dad and you should tell your mom.”

“That’s out of line. It’s kissing.”

“True.” She thought for a moment, calmer now. “Whatever they’re doing, if we told on them, it would make it bigger.”

With nothing to do, my hand, the one that had been stroking her hair, was shaking. I sat on it.

“We can’t leap to conclusions,” I said. “I don’t want my father’s reputation to suffer. My parents have an excellent marriage.” A kiss, I thought, hearing a new voice in my head that I hoped was the voice of adulthood, means nothing at all.

We sat and watched through the gap in the cloth as the Dads walked away and turned a corner. We found them where they’d left us, in Produce.

“Did you survive our absence, darlings?” Nancy asked. She and my father were peering at us, I realized, to make sure we hadn’t seen them. “Did anything bad happen?”

There was a soldierly expression on Khadijah’s face, an expression you already saw on Hillary Clinton sometimes, in 1994. Her eyes were pink, but her face was dry. She shrugged. Smiles dawned on the faces of the grown-ups. They were concluding they hadn’t been caught.

“Mom, please don’t be paranoid,” said Khadijah. “We’re fine.”

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2014

    Sucks

    Even though i hace never read this this book it sounds really boring. I don't even understand the point in the sample.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2013

    An elegance in his simplicity, Nugent builds a story here you ca

    An elegance in his simplicity, Nugent builds a story here you can fall into. Once you've read it, you see connections to it everywhere. The whole story, from start to finish, seems vivid in its concrete details and it's simple fact: I'll never look at stones the same way again. A must-read!

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