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Good Kings Bad Kings

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  2,506 ratings  ·  424 reviews
Inside the halls of ILLC, an institution for juveniles with disabilities, we discover a place that is deeply different from and yet remarkably the same as the world outside. Nussbaum crafts a multifaceted portrait of a way of life hidden from most of us. In this isolated place on Chicago's South Side, friendships are forged, trust is built, and love affairs begin. It's in ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published May 28th 2013 by Algonquin Books (first published March 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,506 ratings  ·  424 reviews

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Jeanette (Again)
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 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 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
~✡~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
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Amazing book with amazing disability rep for my disability in literature course for grad school
Dec 05, 2012 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
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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
May 30, 2013 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
SheriC (PM)
Proponents of privatizing public services argue that, by managing operations like a private business, these services can be provided much more efficiently. So what is the natural outcome when residential/custodial care is outsourced to a corporation whose board demands a healthy profit, and profits are driven by keeping as many beds filled for as little cost as possible? The goal is certainly not to try to support families with disabled children, to keep them at home instead of in residential ca ...more
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
Oct 12, 2013 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
Stephanie (aka WW)
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book presents life in a juvenile nursing home, from the points of view of several of the most colorful residents and employees of the home. It could be depressing in the wrong writer’s hands, but Nussbaum infuses the story with humor and positivity. Recommended for a socially-aware read.
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
When you're "award" of the state, with physical or mental challenges, you have few–if any guarantees–in life. But chances are high that while living within the System, you will face uncertainty, alienation, powerlessness, neglect and/or abuse. And you will likely be the witness to or victim of traumatic events that will greatly impact your life.

It will take creative thinking, a sense of humor and willingness to break the rules to survive this broken system. With resilience and earned trust, you
Jul 05, 2013 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.
Paul Lunger
Jan 23, 2014 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a quick read - I enjoyed the story, the characters and the fact that it got me thinking in a whole different way.
Aug 28, 2014 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 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
Mrs. Palmer
Sep 01, 2013 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 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
Jan 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This novel broke my heart. It has been five days since I finished it and in that time I have started and finished another book, but my mind is still with Good Kings Bad Kings. The realities it depicts are hard, sad, complicated, and realistic. Normally, narration styles that switch points of view frustrate me, because one or two viewpoints I care less about or I don't feel work. But this time, I just can't let any of the characters go.
Shannon Dyer
May 06, 2014 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.
Mar 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this story. Normally a book told from the point of view of 7 characters would seem overwhelming, but it flowed nicely. And I found it necessary and enlightening to have multiple perspectives from adults, children, disabled, and non-disabled alike.

Essentially the plot revolves around an institution for disabled youth in the inner city of Chicago. Disablities range from physical to mental (i.e. schizophrenia and PTSD). Some were born with their disability and others became disable
Janet Lynch
Sep 20, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was sad and depressing, mixed in with a little hope. The story was told in many voices from a nursing home for disabled teenagers. I liked that the voices were so varied, ranging from the disabled teens, to adults that worked there and even included Michelle, whose job it was to fill the beds in the nursing home by getting parents to commit their children. While reading you wanted to believe that places like the nursing home didn’t really exist, but deep down I know that unfortunately ...more
Amanda Harrison
Sometimes you get a book that you feel like must have won an award because it covered a difficult subject matter or had a different perspective on the world, but was not ultimately deserving. This is not one of those books. Good Kings Bad Kings does have hard hitting punches, but wow, the voice, the characters, the story. This is why books are written.

This will change your perspective on people with disabilities and the system that controls them. I was recommending this book before I even finis
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is just wonderful. There is darkness and injustice in it, and plenty of it will make you angry about the reality on which the fiction is based. But the voices of the kids—in particular, the one whose narration begins and ends the book—are so real, so honest, they fill you with hope. I usually don’t like it when authors write slang/dialect phonetically, but in this case, there was no other way to write the story than to allow the voices of those in it to present their lives for themselv ...more
Megan (ReadingRover)
This book was sooo good. If it hadn’t ended so abruptly I would have given it a straight up full 5 stars but I’m giving it 4.5. Well actually I’m going to round it up to 5 so it looks like 5 but just know that it’s really not! That ending was just hit too much of a wall for me. Otherwise the book was perfect. It was written perfectly, the characters were well developed and overall the book was just great!
Barbara Ridley
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
An inspiring novel, well-deserved winner of the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, set in a state institution for children and young adults with physical and cognitive disabilities. Told in multiple point-of-view voices that all resonate with authenticity, the story includes elements of corruption, abuse, romance, heartbreak and political action, with an uplifting conclusion. A wonderful portrayal of diverse voices that challenges traditional notions of what it means to be disabled.
Leah Burgess
Jan 31, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was... a lot. It took me a while to get into, primarily because I was kind of bothered by the “white lady trying to do an over-the-top Puerto Rican accent” language the author used in Yessie’s first chapter. But representation of disability in literature is so important that I felt I had to power through. This whole book was basically one big trigger, certainly not a light read, but I did appreciate the story. The “good kings” in the book made it worth it.
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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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