I picked up Good Kids by Benjamin Nugent while I was browsing the New Fiction shelves. As soon as I read “Fans of Jonathan Franzen, you just may have found your new favorite writer” on the back, I had to check it out. This was the reason I picked it up, but Nugent’s writing style is what kept me reading.
Good Kids is Benjamin Nugent’s first novel. Nugent is also the author of American Nerd: A Story of My People, which is a history of the concept of “nerdiness”, exploring which subcultures are considered nerdy and why. As a nerd myself, I already felt a connection to the author. Nugent’s fiction debut is centered around main characters Josh and Khadijah, friends who at fifteen discover their parents are having an affair with each other. Immediately connected by the acts of their parents, Josh and Khadijah make a pact with each other to never cheat on whomever they’re in a relationship with. As the characters come of age, no longer a part of each other’s lives, they still remain tied by their common bond of fidelity in a culture full of infidelity. Nugent writes, “What frightened me most, in these hours, was how much I thought about Khadijah. I hadn’t seen or exchanged a word with her in four years. I didn’t know where she was. But the fact that I still remembered her, still turned over our moments together and studied them, still summoned to mind her great acts like verses from gospel, made me feel like an inmate clutching a battered photograph…..Master the way you look and speak, I would tell myself, and Khadijah’s substitute will find you in the end”. Although time and space have separated Josh and Khadijah the bond they formed over their parents infidelity never quite goes away. As I read on, I returned to seventh hour Geometry class in high school and remembered daydreaming about what my crush was like only to be confronted by reality when you realize who they actually are. It’s never quite as romantic as you imagine.
While Nugent’s novel explores the story of the relationship between Josh and Khadijah, it’s really a coming of age tale that deals specifically with infidelity and how it can affect the outcome of not only one person, but an entire family whether for good or for bad. While the ending of Good Kids turned out to be slightly anti-climactic, Nugent’s writing is thought provoking and is a good exploration of the question: can there ever really be a happy ending? – Kelli Tatum, Reference