Saturday, April 3, 2010

Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes

Normal. That's exactly what Karl wants to be this year. If he acts normally, the school won't put him in group therapy. If he acts normally, he can pretend that he is normal. If he's normal, then the can be someone else: someone with a mother that he doesn't have to take care of, someone who doesn't have to work a half-dozen jobs, someone...normal. But then a new girl comes to school and it looks like she'll be part of the Madman Underground (the name Karl has given the therapy group). Between dealing with his mom, her cats, his best friend, and this new girl - not to mention all of the other problems at school and work - being normal is going to be a lot harder than it seems.

I hadn't heard much about this book before it was named a Printz Honor book, but that pushed it onto my radar and my reading list. I'm really glad that it did, because I really liked Karl's voice. There are hints in the book to Karl's unreliability as a narrator, which made me more interested in what he was saying (and what he wasn't). The book is set in the 1970s, so there's a bit of retro charm about certain things, but it avoids reading like "wow, the 70s were so different!" A lot of really heavy issues are presented in this book (abuse, alcoholism, death, and prostitution are just a few), and it's pretty weighty in terms of pages, too, but I found it more engaging than depressing.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney
Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey
Going Bovine by Libba Bray

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