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Tales of the Madman Underground

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,883 Ratings  ·  363 Reviews
Wednesday, September 5, 1973: The first day of Karl Shoemaker's senior year in stifling Lightsburg, Ohio. For years, Karl's been part of what he calls "the Madman Underground" - a group of kids forced (for no apparent reason) to attend group therapy during school hours. Karl has decided that senior year is going to be different. He is going to get out of the Madman Undergr ...more
Hardcover, 532 pages
Published June 25th 2009 by Viking Books for Young Readers
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Printz Award Winners and Honor Books
34th out of 80 books — 952 voters
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Printz 2010
20th out of 62 books — 262 voters

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Community Reviews

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Jan 17, 2012 Tatiana rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of "Spectacular Now," "Sorta Like a Rockstar," Gary D. Schmidt
Recommended to Tatiana by: Thomas Tomato
Shelves: ya, printz, 2012
As seen on The Readventurer

At first, this books is hilarious, then it is sad, heartbreaking and scary and later it is inspiring. To think of it, my favorite kind of book.

Karl Shoemaker is determined to start his senior of high school being completely "normal." After spending years in mandatory group therapy with other madmen (abused, traumatized and plain crazy kids) after a disturbing rabbit killing incident, Karl for once wants to separate himself from the mad group and be a part of the "norm
Emily May
Mar 30, 2012 Emily May rated it really liked it
Recommended to Emily May by: Tatiana
Shelves: young-adult, 2012

This book is a real melting pot of emotions. It reminded me very much of another favourite of mine - Sorta Like a Rock Star - in the way it created such a detailed, sad and often amusing picture of a teenager's life and how it pretty much just sucks a lot of the time.

I like teen problem novels that know how to be funny but still make the desired emotional impact as well. Karl Shoemaker lives with his alcoholic mother who steals his hard-earned money and sometimes even locks him out of the house
Have you ever watched the show How I Met Your Mother? The show features Ted, a hopeless romantic, as he is telling his teenage kids the story of how he met their mother. Cute, right? Only he tells his kids the entire story, starting with the moment when he realized that he was looking for a long-term relationship, marriage and kids. So we, the viewers, follow Ted's stories of dating woes, drinking with his friends and all of the fun shenanigan's which follow. Because, as Ted puts it, all of his ...more
Katie Fitzgerald
It has been three days since I finished the last chapter of Tales of the Madman Underground, and I am still thinking about Karl Shoemaker. Honest, humorous, foul-mouthed, masculine, resourceful, and wounded, Karl is definitely the kind of protagonist you want to spend 500 pages with, and whose plights you sympathize with so greatly, you honestly lose yourself in the book, and in the five days during September 1973 that is the backdrop of his story.

Karl's father, the former mayor of their hometo
4.5 I could say that not a whole lot of plot happens in this book. I could say it's too long and that at times it veered toward After School Special--albeit with no language censor--territory. I could say that no teenager has ever been able to verbally express themselves like the kids do in this book. But none of that would matter in the end because any bumps in the road are completely obliterated by the sheer charismatic force of the protagonist. Karl Shoemaker won me over pretty quickly just b ...more
This is Karl's story, summed up in one week that might be the turning point for him. Since his father died of cancer, his mother has turned into a paranoid alcoholic that hoards cats and steals Karl's money to buy drugs. The Madman Underground of the title is his therapy group at school, a group of kids at least as messed up as he is who make up his friends and only real support group.

This is quite a chunk of a book (530 pages in hardcover). The one thing that keeps it going is Karl's voice. He
High Plains Library District
Jan 10, 2015 High Plains Library District rated it it was amazing
Shelves: meagan, teen
Sometimes I pick up a book out of some misplaced sense of obligation, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Books make their way onto my reading list because they’re being named “important,” or winning awards, or landing on Best of the Year lists. (I’m especially prone to this around the end of the year, when I realize how few of the “IT” books of the year I've read.) Usually these books don’t sound particularly appealing to me, and usually I give myself permission to try them and abandon them if ...more
Jennifer Wardrip
Reviewed by Dianna Geers for

Karl has a plan for his senior year. It's to be normal. Or at least to appear to be normal. Forever he has been known as slightly crazy and a target of harassment.

There are a ton of obstacles that will make it difficult to pull of the "normal" appearance. First of all, he has to avoid his very best friend in the world. Not to mention the fact that he has to work endless hours to help support his mother and himself. (She has been off the deep end ever
Oct 22, 2009 Kelly rated it it was amazing
Shelves: young-adult
Tired of his affiliation with the madmen, a group of students bound together during the school year by their shared visits to the school psychologist, Karl Shoemaker starts his senior year by deploying operation “be f***ing normal.” Yet try as he may to break from the madmen and distance himself from their shared injustices, he is just too good of a friend. He also can’t escape his own rap as possibly psychopathic, after a misunderstanding involving the death of one or more cats. Told over six d ...more
Andrew Hicks
Nov 06, 2014 Andrew Hicks rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, ya
I read Tales of the Madman Underground during a Printz Award alumni binge that included Kit’s Wilderness, American Born Chinese and In Darkness. Madman was possibly the wordiest YA novel I’ve read so far, but I never tired of it. Madman is set in small-town Ohio in 1973, and it’s the first YA I’ve read that was structured as a few sequential days in the everyday life of the protagonist, wake to sleep. Five days of home, work, school and social life at the very start of protag Karl Shoema ...more
Oct 28, 2009 Suzanne rated it really liked it
Karl Shoemaker has "gotten a ticket" every year since middle school--an invitation he can't refuse--to take part in a therapy group for kids who are disturbed, maltreated at home, or just plain weird. For his 1973 senior year, Karl just wants to try to be normal even though he works five jobs and has to hide his earnings all over the house so his inattentive barfly, UFO conspiracy fan, "super, super lady" mother doesn't steal yet another one. He just wants to try to be normal even though his mot ...more
Stuti (Turmeric isn't your friend. It will fly your ship


This book is everything I wanted the perks of being a wallflower to be. Now, I won't go on and make any comparisons lest I soil my good mood.

Tales of the Madman Underground is less of a book and more like a potpourri of emotions and feelings, ranging from those rare stolen moments of happiness to sweet-as-coffee-bitterness to black-hole-in-my-gut-horror and disgust. And performing the role of quintessential salt was constant sadness, even till the very end when all things finally come togethe
Oct 08, 2010 Marisa rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ya
I wasn't crazy about the end of this book, but overall I loved it. If I had been on the Printz committe, I think I would have been backing this, although it would have been a tough fight between this and Going Bovine.

Favorite passage, page 354:

She opened the waffle iron up and dumped out two perfect waffles. "How do you know when they're ready?" I asked.

She grinned. "Ancient secret, Tiger Sweetie. You get married very young. You get a waffle iron as a wedding present and you have a husband that
Jun 10, 2013 Meagan rated it it was amazing
This is a book that I added to my TBR list solely based on the fact that it was a Printz Honor book. It sounded interesting enough, and it gets consistently high marks on GoodReads, but for some reason I went into it giving myself an exit. Fifty pages, I said, and then I could quit. I'll have given it a shot, and that's all I can ask for.

Stupid me. I loved this book. The characters and their situations sucked me in so thoroughly that at one point I was so afraid of how I might react to a charact
ugh. i couldn't handle the tone of this book. it was all "awww shucks" cheese-o-riffic and full of dopey jokes and gratuitous cursing. (you wouldn't think the two would mesh well, right? right. they don't.) the characters were always saying corny things to each other that i can't imagine coming out of *any* teen's mouth, 1970s or not. i couldn't keep any of the characters straight, in fact, because they all talked EXACTLY THE SAME.

moreover, it was pompously, ludicrously, ridiculously, egotistic
Jun 16, 2009 pam rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
I loved this book! Karl is a strong, likeable, if somewhat misguided, protagonist. I loved hearing the stories of the messed up kids (that would be the Madmen), struggling to keep their heads above water, despite all life was throwing at them. This book was clever and funny in all the right places. I was completely engrossed from beginning to end. I did get a little lost at times, keeping track of where we were in the present (lots of flashbacks, in order to tell all the tales of the Madmen). Bu ...more
Moriah Bolyard
Feb 22, 2016 Moriah Bolyard rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2016
Wow, this book has so much packed into it. And somehow I loved all of it...? Yeah, wow.

This is the type of YA contemporary I actually like. It's gritty, raw, honest, and makes you feel every feeling the author wants you to feel. John Barnes is a magician. Enough said.
Jun 16, 2009 Jamie rated it really liked it
This is a truly great guy book, and what King Dork strove to be. But it succeeds. And, I can say this despite the fact that multiple cats die. It's truly funny, truly male, and not made irrelevant by its 1970s setting. It also reads faster than it looks. Plenty of sex and bad language if you're squeamish, but, well it's coming from the brain of a 17 year old boy. Delightful!

As long as I'm causing trouble, maybe I should also say it's the book that Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes tried to be? With
Pei Pei
May 17, 2010 Pei Pei rated it it was ok
I love Huck Finn. I love Catcher in the Rye. I understand the inspiration. However, both those novels are amazingly slim and yet pack enormous punch. They move at lightning speed, no wasted words. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for this bloated, derivative novel in which nothing really happens and characters spew more pointless and expository dialogue than would be permitted in a college writing workshop. Maybe even a high school writing workshop.

Two stars because it was occasionally fu
Emilie Andersen
Jul 27, 2016 Emilie Andersen rated it it was amazing
In the beginning this book can seem a bit boring especially when you've read The rest of us just live here and The Perks of Being a Wallflower that grabbed me instantly, but it's important for me to underline how different the main character Karl is compared the main characters of the two other books - Karl is a boy you know all and nothing about, he talks a lot of the people around him but I think I only got to really know Karl through the little actions he did for others. The book mirrors the ...more

Funny, witty, brash, awkward, touching, sad, bemusing -- quite apart from having the best title ever, Tales of the Madman Underground runs rings around any preconceptions I might have had of what it was going to be. I'm all for snarky heroes, and Karl Shoemaker is probably the most authentic snark I've come across; there's nothing pretentious about him, he's refreshingly honest and probably the most chatty narrator in the world.

It wasn't an easy story. Underneath the running current of self-dep
Aug 26, 2012 Kristin rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: People who like blatant Catcher in the Rye rip-offs
This book was like wading through a river of shit. It's a great concept - basically nice high school kid with emotional issues tries to make his way through therapy with a bunch of other similar kids a Toledo, Ohio suburb in the 70s. But.... epic fail. This story was basically the Catcher in the Rye in Ohio in the 70s. Except in this one Holden Caulfield has friends whose existence you don't somewhat doubt. I wanted to like this book. I loved Catcher in the Rye, which I guess is why I don't see ...more
Feb 09, 2010 Nicole rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone NC17
When asked if the Madmen protect each other, Karl replies: "No. Usually we can't do a f**king thing for each other, come to admit it. We're a little group of mental-case high school students, not the f**kin' X-Men, you know? But we know each other's stories, and we do try to watch each other's backs, when we can."

I was 200 pages in before I noticed the writing was a bit shaky and at that point I couldn't care less. The narrative voice is like a magnet- it pulls hard and makes an immediate connec
Nov 04, 2013 Isamlq rated it really liked it
Acknowledge how he is messed up but not as messed up as much as he thinks… the fact is most everyone in this is messed up. With his super super lady of a mother who likes to get her drink on, Karl is taking care of things despite issues that are shadowed by one unfortunate bunny incident. It’s that last that’s landed him with people with a history just as messed up as his own: an abused cheerleader, a farm boy jock likewise living that hell, a rich pretty girls who talk to stuffed toys, also a b ...more
Oct 02, 2012 Kelly rated it it was amazing
When I finished this book and closed the cover, I felt like I was saying goodbye to a really good friend. Karl Shoemaker is the friend everyone should be lucky enough to have at least once in a lifetime. He's brave, sensitive, tough, hard, soft, gentle, firm, honest and kind. He's got a complicated life for sure and he does his best to be everything he can for everyone he loves. He attends in-school therapy with a bunch that call themselves the "Madmen Underground." He has a great bunch of quirk ...more
Feb 24, 2010 Christina rated it it was amazing
Wow! This is a great book, full of characters so real you want to call them up and share your day with them. I didn't want it to end. Loved the narrator and his crazy hectic life of juggling multiple part-time jobs, cat poop duty and coping with his often-drunk and stoned mother, all with a super sense of humor and way of looking at the world even when it's really beating him down. The Madman Underground is the nickname Karl gives to his group of outcast friends, who all spend time in therapy fo ...more
Feb 18, 2010 Jan rated it really liked it
Shelves: teenbooks
This Printz Honor book has such an intriguing title. An Historical romance from the 70's! For today's teens? Yes, indeed and it succeeds spectacularly in demonstrating that although teens of different generations may have different circumstances in their lives, one thing is consistent--coming of age can be a bitch. The novel, told in first person, tells of the teens who are members of the madmen underground, a group of high school students who, for different reasons, have been deemed by administ ...more
Karl is a member of the Madman Underground - a group of high school seniors in 1973 who have problems at home and are required to go to group therapy together. Even though these kids are from all different social cliques, they all know terrible secrets about each... other a share a unique bond. Karl struggles with his dad's death, his mom's drinking problem, and supporting his household with 5 part time jobs. Over the course of 5 days, Karl goes through all the highs and lows of his life, tellin ...more
This is a big book - figuratively and literally - and it's hard to know where to start. It's one of those books where you completely buy into the world of the story - it's character driven, and you never doubt for a moment that this is how they would act or think. But because it feels so real, it's that much more difficult to read. Each of the high schoolers is so painfully messed up, each family has so many issues. It never reads like a problem novel, partly because it's so well crafted and par ...more
Liza Wiemer
I continue to vacillate between appreciating this book as pure genius and as part insanity. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why it was a ALA Printz Honor Book. At times I wanted to throw the book against the wall and at other times I absolutely couldn't put it down. We have heard the phrase that 'the truth is stranger than fiction,' but in this case I am left wondering how much truth was in the fiction. I am certain that these circumstances had to have taken place in some way to someone at so ...more
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John Barnes (born 1957) is an American science fiction author, whose stories often explore questions of individual moral responsibility within a larger social context. Social criticism is woven throughout his plots. The four novels in his Thousand Cultures series pose serious questions about the effects of globalization on isolated societies. Barnes holds a doctorate in theatre and for several yea ...more
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“So we fell asleep holding hands. If married couples got to do this all the time, shit if I could understand how there were ever divorces, or even fights.” 42 likes
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