Good Kings Bad Kings: A Novel
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Good Kings Bad Kings: A Novel

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  929 ratings  ·  226 reviews
Bellwether Award winner Susan Nussbaum’s powerful novel invites us into the lives of a group of typical teenagers—alienated, funny, yearning for autonomy—except that they live in an institution for juveniles with disabilities. This unfamiliar, isolated landscape is much the same as the world outside: friendships are forged, trust is built, love affairs are kindled, and rul...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 28th 2013 by Algonquin Books (first published March 1st 2013)
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
It must feel heady to receive an award for your first novel almost a year before it's published. Susan Nussbaum received the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction in June of 2012. The prize promotes “fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships.” Good Kings Bad Kings is a perfect fit for the award.

In the voices of residents and employees, Nussbaum presents life in a state-run nursing home for juveniles with disabilities...more
Diane S.
A group of mentally and physically challenged young people take center stage in this novel. It is set in a nursing home on the South Side of Chicago and is told in alternating chapters between seven characters, the patients and those who work for the company that administers the facility. The author herself is wheelchair bound after a serious accident so she knows what she writes. This book has an agenda but it is so skillfully rendered that one is entertained or indignant, but not annoyed.

One o...more
Alex Templeton
I have very mixed feelings about this book, which is narrated by a cast of characters involved in a public home for teenagers with disabilities in Illinois. On one hand, I feel very positively about it, in the sense that Nussbaum, herself a disability activist, does a great job humanizing the lives and the plights of these often-forgotten and dehumanized individuals. She does an excellent job creating a variety of believable voices. However, (and contrary to the views of an interviewer of Nussba...more
Robin
I have been anxiously waiting for 8 months to read this book. In June I watched Barbara Kingsolver give Susan Nussbaum the Bellwether award and Susan's inspirational and emotional speech left most of us in tears. Since then I've been pestering the publisher's rep for a galley and received it the other day. So far I am absolutely loving it and hope it continues to be fabulous so I can recommend it to everyone I know.

Update: It took a bit to sort out the various characters as the story is told fro...more
Laura
3.75 stars. I enjoyed this book. It was a fast read but not an easy read due to the fact that most every scene takes place inside an institution for disabled youth. Our health care system is wrong on so many levels that I've lost track. This is a perfect example of many of the problems. And the biggest victims are the sick people in need of quality care. However, as long as a few at the top continue to get rich because of it, the system will continue to nourish itself.

Each character had his/her...more
Suzanne
This is a very realistic view of private residences for disabled youth. They are created to serve children with physical and or psychological and mental challenges and quickly become cash cows for unscrupulous investors and greedy, lazy doctors. I saw this first hand almost 40 years ago when I worked in a similar institution which employed "milieu therapy," which means no therapy.

Susan Nussbaum, the author, has the advantage of being born able and later on, being hit by a bus. She is able to bre...more
~~Still Dani ♥ skulls, ♂♂ smut & semi-colons~~
2.5 stars

Well, this is awkward. How can you give a less-than-stellar rating to a book that deals with youth nursing homes and disabilities? It's just that this novel was so cookie-cutter and predictable. All the bad happens (rape, kick-backs, abuse, mistreatment, etc.). And some good happens too. The characters are not well developed, and everything is wrapped up too neatly.

I appreciate that Nussbaum did her research regarding the "System" and its treatment of the handicapped in Chicago, but th...more
Paige
3.5 stars

This book takes a look at the institutions that serve the disabled children. This is, I think, a really important subject, and I agree with a lot of what the author is saying in the book; however, the actual book part was sometimes lacking for me.

First, Nussbaum uses seven different narrators to tell the story. And yeah, yeah, didn't I just give my high rating to a book that uses multiple first-person points of view? Yes. I did. In the case of The Brides of Rollrock Island, Margo Lanaga...more
Snotchocheez

Damn. Am I going to be the ogre that trashes a fledgling author's debut effort? Not exactly, although despite winning the Barbara Kingsolver seal of social responsibility award (what did she win? Artisanal Ewe Cheese? Free range quail eggs?) a full year before it was published, Ms. Nussbaum's Good Kings Bad Kings is, I suppose, an eye-opening look at the assisted-living industry. Ms. Nussbaum takes Upton Sinclair-sized scythe swipes at a specific facility in Chicago which helped disabled teens....more
Alena
This book knocked the wind out of me. Told from the perspectives of 7 different people connected to the "System" of disabled care in Illinois, this is a disturbing work of fiction. In fact, I had to keep reminding myself that it is a socially-responsible work of fiction because it felt all too real.

Corruption. Abuse. Love and friendship. Neediness. Disappointment. These are all present and mixed together through the eyes of patients, caretakers, activists and even a recruiter (a role I never kne...more
Rachel
Writing this review wasn't easy for me, because reading this book felt very personal. In my life prior to my current career I've worked in a lot of nursing homes and one center for independent living. I worked with adults for a long time before finally finding school psychology. My life experience had a great impact on how I reacted to this book.

Let's start with the characters. With the exception of one non-perspective character, I have worked with every single one of these characters. While to...more
Ms.P
A book featuring disabled characters, characters with mental illnesses, characters of various ethnicities. They're written in a way so that you see their humanity.No pity parties or "inspirational" stories here. The author herself is disabled, and she makes it clear that the characters in the book are not defined by their disabilities. They are real people with desires (big surprise, right?)
The story takes place in an institution for children with severe disabilities in Chicago. I am sure it is...more
Samantha Hoffman
My main problem with Good Kings Bad Kings is that I couldn't put it down. It's a mesmerizing story of disabled kids living in an institution in Chicago, how they cope with their environment and what goes on behind the scenes.
There are numerous characters - each chapter is told from a different point of view - and at first it was tough to keep track of everyone. But I soon got to know them so well that it seemed they were real. Nussbaum does a great job of giving each person his or her own voice...more
Shannon Dyer
Round up to 4.5 stars. A very emotional read, allowing us to see into the lives of institutionalized youth and those who care for them. Parts were so sad, but, overall, I found it quite empowering.
Paul Lunger
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lh
Susan Nussbaum opened a whole new world to me in this gripping, tender, startling, shocking novel through the voices of seven people who are part of an institution for juveniles with disabilities. Three of the voices are the youngsters - young teen through almost age 21. The others are adults who work at the facility or for the company that owns it, including one who is in a wheelchair herself. "Good Kings, Bad Kings" is the inaugural winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize, & many other awards....more
Darlene
Wow! Just Wow! This book was fantastic! Wait... And yet it was not.

Susan Nusabaum has presented us with a microcosm study in her fictional novel of the society of disabled youth in conventional nursing homes. Wow, again, that was a mouthful (keyboard full?)! Sadly, I don't believe that the truth is far from this depiction.

The individual stories that create the novel outlines the hopeful actuation of each person dealing with their own demons, their own needs, their own striving for romance while...more
Amina |  PAPER/PLATES
Full review at PAPER/PLATES

Susan Nussbaum’s writing is glaring. Her debut novel, Good Kings Bad Kings, shines a very bright, focused beam of light on those all-knees-and-elbows teenage years—a time period painful enough without being compounded by her main characters’ frankly unlucky lot in life. The rotating teenage and adult narrators of her novel live and work together in a Chicago institution—in this case, there is little cause to call it a ‘home’—for disabled adolescents. It’s an ignored b...more
Cathy
Short vignettes, or portraits, of a dozen or so people is the structure around which Good Kings Bad Kings is built. Most of these are disabled teens who live in a for profit institution called the Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center. Teens who come to mind are Yessenia, who winds up there from Juvie, but who is a great character, Teddy with his suits and determination to find his own place to live after aging out of LLSC, and Mia, who's been through more than anyone should have to, and who...more
Chris Blocker
Good Kings, Bad Kings is aptly titled as it reminded me of a game of chess. In this novel, the pieces have been meticulously laid out—the advocate, the abuser, the scammer, the victim, the lesbian, the bishop, the pawn—and all the moves are predetermined, characters are not allowed to make their own decisions. It's set in a home for adolescents with disabilities. All these elements together make the novel a bit too much like an after-school special for my taste.

I liked the author's choice of usi...more
Lou
The story whirls in and around a cast of characters who find themselves either working or living at The Illinois Learning and Life Skills Centre, their narratives are in first person and told alternately in different chapters. The centre caters for eighty young institutionalised crips.
You learn of their days there and their mannerisms. The way the centre worked in this story has you think on the more serious problems out here in the real world dealing with the way the vulnerable and sick are som...more
Terry Perrel
I could not leave this novel. I couldn't leave its characters, because I became a witness to what goes on inside residential facilities for handicapped children, both the highs and the lows, and the questionable business practices sometimes involved in running such facilities. Set in Chicago and told by more than a half dozen unique first-person points of view, this book took me to a place I'd never been and introduced me to flawed characters -- mentally, physically and spiritually -- that were...more
Theresa
Really I should give it two stars, but the third is probably because this book is the most recent winner of the PEN/Bellwether prize for socially engaged fiction sponsored by Barbara Kingsolver. Since Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, I felt like I had to like this book more than I did.

It is hard to be critical of a book that treats such a serious topic. The setting is a nursing home for disabled youth. The residents experience numerous types of abuse, neglect and inferior care, all in...more
Cheryl DeFranceschi
This book was funny, overwhelmingly sad and truly unflinching.
Amelia
This novel is an excellent blend of social activism and intense fiction. Each chapter of the book is told from the perspective of a different narrator, and each voice is both fresh and believable. Many of the scenes are really effing harrowing and I've read reviews that charge the book with being sensationalist, but I'm sorry to report that abuse in nursing homes is widespread and brutal and these fictionalized happenings are not at all rare. I highly recommend this book, but with the caveat tha...more
Patricia
Susan Nussbaum, author of GOOD KINGS BAD KINGS, is also a playwright. Her ability to craft characters with resounding voices is stunningly on stage in this fine novel. I bought it as an addition to my eighth grade classroom library, but I will instead pass it to my former students who are now in high school. The writing for the majority of my students is too sophisticated. This is in no way to detract from the power of this story of several people whose lives are connected through disability, or...more
Claire
This book covers a lot in under 300 pages. It won Barbara Kingsolver's award for socially engaged fiction and is a compelling and hard-hitting story of life in a modern institution for children and young adults with mental and physical disabilities. The novel is a story told through the eyes of various characters; people who work in the institution and people who live there.

The story is harrowing and tragic, but there is some well-timed comedy in there, too. Nussbaum cleverly comments on the sy...more
Zoë ... Altizer
I picked this up in a neat little used bookstore. I don't know why. Actually, I give this book 3.5 stars because... it just wasn't the best. I do, however, LOVE LOVE LOVE the details of how Nussbaum captured everyone's emotions. Now- this is not a book for kids. Nope. I am mature for my age, considering all the guys in my grade are going through the whole 'thats so baller loooool' phase. So... yeah. I can't explain this book. Thats not a bad thing- its just a hard book to explain. It is a pretty...more
Dani Chakra
This book is both thought-provoking and realistically down-to-earth. No, there aren't any disabled kids with superpowers in Good Kings Bad Kings, nor are there awe-inspiring miracles that magically heal the "crips". The individual accounts (told in varying perspectives) outlined in this work of fiction blend together seamlessly to form one story. In an institution for juveniles with disabilities, not everything goes according to protocol. Some of the caretakers are bad apples, with troubling pas...more
Tracy
This amazing and original book by Susan Nussbaum should be on one of the “books to read before you die” lists for its originality. The author is a master of honestly capturing a variety of characters’ voices from Yessenia Lopez the 16 year old teenager whose options are supervised care or juvie, to Michelle Volkmann the 20-something recruiter for the Chicagoland nursing facilities owned by the Whitney-Palm Group who is in over her head, to the charming and loveable 22 year old suit wearing Teddy...more
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Susan Nussbaum’s plays have been widely produced. In 2008 she was cited by the Utne Reader as one of ‘50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World’ for her work with girls with disabilities. Good Kings, Bad Kings is her first novel. She lives in Chicago, America.
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