The Goat Driver, is James F. Johnson’s second installment in the Bullies and Allies series. It picks up with fourteen-year-old Kyle Rickett being sent to live with his grandfather in Minnesota after a traumatic start to his summer in Washington State where a series of events has spiraled into a living nightmare for him.
Kyle has been bullied at school, gaslighted by his own sister, and sexually molested by his dad’s best friend, who unfortunately, is Kyle’s doctor. Kyle’s family is in denial of the situation and seemingly unable to cope with Kyle’s accusing presence and their own guilt. Consequently, Kyle has been shipped off to his grandfather. As the first book in the series, Disaster Island, ended, Kyle had attempted suicide during his journey and then considered becoming a young male prostitute since that seemed to be what other males wanted from him.
But in The Goat Driver, things will start to turn around for Kyle. The title refers to the driver of a yellow GTO, a vehicle that car buffs call a “Goat.” It is Kyle’s favorite car, and he cannot believe it when Tuck Taylor, a twenty-one-year-old young man who is the grandson of Kyle’s grandfather’s best friend, is sent to pick him up at the train station because Kyle’s grandfather, Louie, is busy performing at a festival—Louie is an accordion player and dresses in a German folk costume.
Despite the fact that Tuck drives Kyle’s favorite car, Kyle isn’t sure at first how to react to him. He has been so traumatized that he is upset that his grandfather didn’t come himself to pick him up. Before long, Tuck and Kyle are having an argument. Kyle is being rather snotty and Tuck is hoping he never has to see the kid again once he delivers him to his grandfather.
But things change once they get to the festival. Kyle is filled with stress and repressed emotion, but when he sees his grandfather, the tears break forth as he runs to his one ally. Tuck is shocked by Kyle’s reaction, as is Louie. Before Tuck knows it, the old man has enlisted him in helping Kyle through whatever difficulties he’s been having that he hasn’t been able to open up and share with anyone else, including his grandfather.
Louie tells Tuck that he remembers seeing the same look in Kyle’s eyes in the eyes of his best friend Maury, who had fought in the war with him, and ultimately, had committed suicide. He begs Tuck not to let that happen to Kyle.
It’s a big responsibility Tuck takes on, but he finds that once he gets to know Kyle, the kid is likeable. He becomes impressed with some of Kyle’s talents and natural abilities and comes to think of him as being like a little brother. He quickly notes Kyle’s insecurities and tries to praise him a bit more than might be realistic, but Kyle, who realizes Tuck might be going a bit overboard, also likes the attention. Kyle is slowly learning to trust again, and ultimately, he becomes brave enough to share his darkest secrets so he can find the strength to move past them.
I don’t want to say too much more and give away the whole story. The Goat Driver is not full of all the twists and turns and shocking moments that Disaster Island contained. That was a novel of trauma; this is a novel about healing and also one about learning how to stand up for yourself. Readers will witness many poignant, uncomfortable, and even illuminating moments in these pages. By the time the novel ends, Tuck has taught Kyle what he needs to return home to Torano Island and stand up to the bullies in his life.
The Goat Driver is a book that anyone who has ever been bullied or hurt, or simply had to deal with the self-image and self-esteem issues that teenagers face, will take to heart. Both Tuck and Kyle have pain from their pasts, but by forging a brotherly bond, they learn to face their pasts and move forward.
I am left longing to read the final book in the series, The Puzzled. I am hoping for a happy ending, but based on James F. Johnson’s first two books, I know there will be no easy answers, just a very realistic portrayal of life with all its difficulties and golden moments, which in the end, provides a cathartic experience for readers and may well give hope to many who are facing bullies today or seeking to heal their pasts.
For more information about The Goat Driver, the Bullies and Allies series, and author James F. Johnson, visit the author’s website.