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Good Kings Bad Kings

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  1,645 Ratings  ·  321 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
Book club read #4, Feb 2017.

"...not only shines a light on a segment of society often ignored, in art as well as life, but also a really great read."
-The Washington Post

More than shines a light, this book exposes what's wrong and what is right with the whole system, specifically nursing homes for disabled children. Kids are abused, neglected, some die -- even one is too many -- and others grow up within the system hoping some day their lives might go back to normal, on the outside, just wanting
Diane S ☔
Jul 28, 2013 Diane S ☔ rated it really liked it
Shelves: roadrallyteamb
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
Alex Templeton
Aug 29, 2013 Alex Templeton rated it liked it
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
Dec 05, 2012 Robin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: best-of-2013
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
~✡~Dαni(ela) ♥ ♂♂ love & 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
May 30, 2013 Suzanne rated it really liked it
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
Oct 12, 2013 Alena rated it really liked it
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
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
Jul 22, 2014 Rachel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, at-the-cpl
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
Jul 05, 2013 Snotchocheez rated it liked it

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.
Aug 28, 2014 Paige rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 12, 2013 Lou rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature
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
Astounding. Upsetting. At times I was moved to laughter, at others to tears. And I could not put this book down. It's about institutionalizing the disabled, it's about abuse, and it's about friends and family and finding out who you are and who you want to be.

TRIGGER WARNING: child abuse, rape, ableism.

The author--who is physically disabled herself--did a wonderful job of presenting so many different aspects of disability. There were some (in character) ableist slurs regarding the mentally disab
Mrs. Palmer
Sep 01, 2013 Mrs. Palmer rated it it was amazing
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
Samantha Hoffman
Jul 16, 2013 Samantha Hoffman rated it it was amazing
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
Shannon Dyer
May 06, 2014 Shannon Dyer rated it really liked it
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.
Summer Hart
Nov 18, 2013 Summer Hart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
I received this book from a Goodreads giveaway. This has no bearing on my review.

I started reading Good Kings Bad Kings on my lunch break a few days ago, figuring that I had some time to kill before I went back to work and that I'd get a few pages in. I ended up spending my whole break in the car glued to this book. The character's voices came to life for me, and the story kept me engaged.

Good Kings Bad Kings is the story of ILLC-the Illinois Life and Learning Center, which is a for-profit nursi
Sep 17, 2013 Darlene rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone!
Recommended to Darlene by: I can't remember! :-(
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
Jun 25, 2013 Amina | PAPER/PLATES rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jul 26, 2013 Cathy rated it liked it
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
May 06, 2013 Jackie rated it it was amazing
Reread this because a friend of mine is teaching it to her undergrads and I'm subbing for her in two days. Even better now that I know a little bit more.

A guy in a car stopped and asked were we selling lemonade. Can you believe that shit? They see a group of teenage people standing together anywhere else, they'd be arrested for being gangbangers. They see a bunch of disable people and think we're selling lemonade. Where is the respect?

If at all possible, you should try to read this
Jan 25, 2014 Lh rated it it was amazing
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
Marissa Morrison
Mar 07, 2016 Marissa Morrison rated it really liked it
There is nothing about this book that isn't wonderful. Nussbaum provides a glimpse of life in a nursing home for crippled youth, telling the story piece by piece from the points of view of various employees and residents. The voices of the narrators are distinct and their stories are extremely touching. The story is mostly sad (the children are largely neglected, abused and even killed), but there is also a lot of positivity, humor and love.

This book has one huge flaw, however. The author stupid
Janet Elsbach
Oct 08, 2014 Janet Elsbach rated it really liked it
Shelves: difference
This is a high wire juggling act of numerous voices, the story told from more than half a dozen perspectives. The voices are expertly, lovingly, beautifully rendered, and this makes the plot a lot less important, which is good, because it is not as strong as the voices. It's hard to follow this many people at first, so a little reader whiplash happened until I could keep track of them, but they are so distinctively drawn that the work was pleasant. As a person who teaches writing to people with ...more
Paul Lunger
Jan 23, 2014 Paul Lunger rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Karen Robiscoe
Jun 27, 2014 Karen Robiscoe rated it really liked it
Right away, the author's first-person, conversational tone captivated me. Did I say conversational? Make that intuitively brilliant. The story of a nursing home for disabled people (and its deplorable conditions/practices) is a new take on Cuckoo's Nest, and easily as complex in its interwoven characters. Recounted in a Faulkner-esque style that switched between the players--residents and staff--my only (nit-picky)criticism is the similarity of character voice made it initially difficult to dete ...more
Jul 15, 2013 Theresa rated it liked it
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
Sep 27, 2013 Beverly rated it liked it
I always look forward to reading the Bellwether winner as the winner will be a literary fiction book that addresses issues of social justice. This book is the story of residents and employees of the Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center or as it was known to all ILLC, a nursing home for disabled youth. Kudos to the author for penning a diverse group of characters infusing their voices with dignity and strength in their pursuit for acceptance. This is a well needed voice in literature. There w ...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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