Elizabeth's Reviews > Tales of the Madman Underground

Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes
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's review
May 27, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: 2012
Recommended for: People who live by a code

I wanted to love this book but ended up kinda liking it. We're in Ohio in the 1970s following Karl. Karl's about to be a senior in high school. The title comes from the name of a group of kids who are in a therapy group in their school. Karl is part of that group and we follow his exploits with other friends, also members of the group.

Therapy, high school, the 1970s, anything can happen here in this novel. It's a slice of life, coming of age for teens, who are definitely dealing with serious shit. They deal with incest, getting beaten, homosexuality... not light topics. Mostly the topics are just mentioned, not delved into, this is a YA book after all. Karl wants to be more "normal". So we start the book with a plan of his, to get out of therapy group. We end up seeing him struggle with his identity as "normal" and the genuine friendships that have evolved with the fucked up kids in therapy. Real friends are always better, regardless of who they are, than acting a certain way to please certain people-- this is what I took as the lesson of the book. An honorable lesson if there ever was one.

Karl is one of those characters that does everything right it seems. He's a hard worker, respectful to women, dependable. His big issue is anger and even than, his anger explodes mostly with good reason. I felt like he didn't need people rooting for him because he's a winner plain and simple. I guess all books need a hero to follow, I found myself getting bored with this one, especially about 350 pps in. I was like, come on already, can you not screw up like once?!

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