Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum
Copyright 2013
Algonquin Books - Fiction
298 pp.

First sentence (plus one):

My tia Nene said three is the magic number and when three things happen to you that are so, so bad and you feel like the whole wide world is just throwing up on your new shoes, don't worry.  Your bad luck is about to change.

Good Kings Bad Kings is about the patients and staff at an institution for juveniles with disabilities in Chicago's South Side.  The story is told through the voices of several of the staff members, a woman who recruits patients for the facility and a number of the disabled youth who are pretty much imprisoned by the institution's diabolical rules, refusal to purchase motorized wheelchairs and their own disabilities.  

My thoughts:

Good Kings Bad Kings is written in vernacular and told in first person by so many different characters that it can be difficult sifting through the mental files to keep all of those characters straight, but it absolutely sucked me in from the first page . . . which is unusual.  I abhor the use of vernacular.  But, in this case it actually did serve to distinguish the characters well, although the distinctions were often subtle and used to show how those who came from poor backgrounds were or are abused by a system practically designed for abuse -- one in which a private company can persuade people to legally sign over the care of their children and then hire unskilled, poorly paid workers while pocketing the majority of the funds meant for their care.

After I got hit by the No. 8, I went through a rehab process and they finally gave me my first wheelchair.  It was manual.  No matter how hard I tried I couldn't do more than push myself a few feet on a smooth surface.  Carpet was like quicksand.  People had to push me everywhere.  I'd end up staring at a fern or getting my feet smashed into a wall or being held hostage in the middle of someone else's conversation.  I could see where I wanted to go but was powerless to make it happen.

~p. 12

There may be just a few too many characters speaking in first person in Good Kings Bad Kings but the variety of viewpoints, while a bit exhausting, gives you a pretty good view of how a system meant for the care of those in need can be abused and how dangerous and deadly the abuse can be.

Highly recommended - I really do hate vernacular but I thought Good Kings Bad Kings was a powerful story, both in spite of the way it's told and because of it.  There were times that a character's mode of speech was horribly difficult to read because "Chicago South Side" is not an accent that's familiar to me.  I'd occasionally find myself looking at a word written in vernacular, completely puzzled as to just what word that was supposed to represent.  But, the bottom line is that Good Kings Bad Kings is a fictional story about a real-life problem that does an excellent job of plunking the reader vividly into the middle of the horror.  The only thing I think the book lacks is a section on what readers can do to help bring about change.

I received a copy of Good Kings Bad Kings from Algonquin Books unsolicited and chose to write an unbiased review.

©2013 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery  or its RSS feed, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!