Wandering Librarians's Reviews > Tales of the Madman Underground

Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes
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's review
Aug 12, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, friendship, historical-fiction, realistic-fiction, serious-issues, ya
Read in May, 2010


Karl Shoemaker has one goal for his senior year: be normal. If he can only be normal, then maybe for one year he won't be sent to the therapy group. How hard can being normal be? Pretty hard, when your mom steals your money to go drink and "being normal" means not being able to talk to your best friend. As much as Karl wants to be "normal," he finds it's pretty hard to leave a group where everyone knows your story.


OK Printz committee. I’ll give you this one. This was a good book. OK? You were right about this one. I really liked it. But I still maintain they were trying to be hip and edgy. It just so happens it was good too.

Reasons I liked this book:

Nice job with dialogue Mr. Barnes. So often teenage characters end up talking like snarky English professors or street kids from an 80s movie. Or valley girls from a 90s movie. There’s a middle ground people. And it was found in this book. The character’s voices were all very distinct, and very real. They felt like actual people.
I very much appreciated that everything wasn’t fixed in the end. One things was fixed, but hey, it’s a YA book, we need something. But there was no happy ending, for anyone really, and that felt true. It was a bittersweet ending, but I really like those. Have you ever seen Little Miss Sunshine? You know at the end when they all come together as a family and they’re feeling good and it’s really uplifting? But at the same time, you know they have to go back home and they’re bankrupt and the father’s business idea has failed and their grandfather’s dead and the uncle is still sad about his lost boyfriend and the kid has lost his dream of being a pilot. So sad. But uplifting. It was like that.
I’ve read a number of books that try to tell the story through “real time” and it does not work. This book took place over the course of five days, and it worked perfectly. It didn’t feel forced, it didn’t feel accelerated. Things were actually happening at a pace that was believable for a five day period.

I disagree with the subtitle though, which is A Historical Romance 1973. I didn’t think of this as a romance at all. I’m glad that title isn’t actually on the cover of the book, because I think it would be a turn-off.
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