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Good Kings Bad Kings: A Novel Hardcover – May 28, 2013

4.6 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* This year’s winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction is a mighty first novel by a Chicago playwright and disabilities-rights activist. Nussbaum’s dramatist skills translate powerfully into fiction as she gives voice to an infatuating cast of characters assembled in the Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center, a nursing home for young people with physical and mental challenges. Yessina Lopez is an assertive and giving teen whose wheelchair does not inhibit her quest for autonomy and love. There is courtly romance between Teddy Dobbs, the only resident whose father visits, and sweet and severely abused cerebral palsy sufferer Mía Ovíedo. Smart and wittily sarcastic Joanne Madsen, who uses a wheelchair with aplomb ever since being hit by a city bus, is the center’s new data-entry clerk, and she becomes sharply attuned to the tender hearts of the kids and the indifference, even malevolence, of the administrators. The center’s bus driver, Ricky Hernandez, also cares passionately for his young charges and worries about their treatment. Nussbaum charms, outrages, and enlightens readers as she cycles among these and other characters, boldly contrasting the transcendence of love with the harsh realities of a negligent for-profit nursing home. This is unquestionably an authentic, galvanizing, and righteous novel. --Donna Seaman

Review

"Nussbaum wonderfully sweetens a stark subject with doses of idiosyncratic humor and hard-earned pathos . . . [she] upholds the individuality and integrity of her characters, never stooping to saccharine cliches or Hollywood manipulation . . . [a] moving story." ―The Wall Street Journal

"This is a world as foreign to most as another planet. That Nussbaum is able to make it as real and as painful and joyful and alive as she does is a spectacular accomplishment . . . a joy for readers." ―Chicago Tribune

"Each character tells his or her own story in alternating chapters with lively, diverse, authentic voices . . . Nussbaum will have readers rooting for these brave, vulnerable teens to fight for better lives." ―School Library Journal 

"Saucy, brutally funny, gritty, profane, poignant and real." ―The Kansas City Star

"A knockout . . . Nussbaum possesses an astonishing ear for idiosyncratic voices, and a talent for creating characters who appear in full bloom within a few sentences. This is an easy book to love and admire--but more than that, it's a book that has the potential to change forever the conversation we are (or are not) having about what it means to be 'disabled' . . . In Good Kings Bad Kings, we have the rare opportunity to be awakened by hearing the truth delivered with beauty alongside agony, despair interwoven with possibility." ―Los Angeles Review of Books

“Nussbaum’s dramatist skills translate powerfully into fiction as she gives voices to an infatuating cast of characters . . . This is unquestionably an authentic, galvanizing, and righteous novel.” ―Booklist (starred review)

“Well-meaning, well-written and well-plotted, with qualified justice for some of the bad guys and hope for a few of the oppressed: A most appropriate winner of the 2012 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“A stirring debut from a determined writer and activist.” ―Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; First Edition edition (May 28, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1616202637
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616202637
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #774,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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 each other, 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 and personality.
This is a beautifully written, emotion-packed story that will grab you and won't let go of you until you turn the last page. And then those characters will stay there for a while in your head.
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Format: Hardcover
GOOD KINGS BAD KINGS

Welcome to the Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center -- better known to the young patients living there as ILLC. ILLC is a state-run nursing home for kids with disabilities. They are able to stay there through the age of twenty-one; wherein they are either placed in an adult nursing home or are able to tackle life on their own.

Each chapter is told by a different individual; someone who is either living at the center or is an employee there. Hats off to author Susan Nussbaum -- each character has their own very distinct and unmistakable voice, telling their story in vivid details, catching your attention, warming your heart, and most of all, opening your eyes.

Yessenia Lopez is fifteen and a resident. She's in a wheelchair and alone in the world. She doesn't let her disability get her down, takes it all in stride. She plans on not staying long at ILLC, getting out no matter what is her desire and plan. Yessie can take care of herself and thinks as she is in time-out -- "And I'm sitting here in this urine punishment room because that pimple-headed heifer Benedicta, my quote roommate, stole one of my teddy bears out my collection I won playing body-parts bingo, so I chopped up her blanket. Or I started to until some bald dude interrupted. It's not like she was in the bed at the time."

Joanne Madsen is a data-entry clerk at ILLC and the center's only handicapped employee -- or as she refers to herself as a 'crip'. Living an independent life, she cares for the kids at the center and changes their lives after some exciting circumstances. Joanne is the type of person one can count on -- and so many of the youths look up to her. Being in a chair herself, Joanne can honestly relate to these kids.
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8 Comments 7 of 7 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
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 nursing home for both mentally and physically disabled children. It's told through alternating voices--each chapter is from the point of view of a person involved with ILLC. From Yessenia, Teddy and Mia (residents of ILLC) to Joanne, Jimmie and Ricky (employees) to Michelle (a recuiter), we learn about life both inside the home and and at Whitney-Palms, the company that owns ILLC. Each chapter is short but the voice of each character is very different, so I didn't have trouble keeping track of who was who.

This story is heartbreaking and powerful. I would say that I definitely learned a lot and it opened my eyes to how nursing homes can be and the horrors that these children face every day. Not only the complete lack of freedom, but abuse and neglect from having an understaffed home. Still they make friends, find love, and support each other through it all. Nussbaum definitely doesn't pull any punches. Several things happen in the book (I won't spoil anything) that were very upsetting, so I would take that into consideration. But truthfully the incidents that happen to the kids at ILLC often happen in real nursing homes very similar to the one portrayed here. So there's that.

There were a few parts that were a little slow but overall it was a solid book. I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject matter, and even those who might find it outside their usual reading, like I did. I am definitely glad that I recieved it.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Nussbaum dared to reveal a dark side of our healthcare. She chose believable characters & skillfully crafted story to keep the reader enthralled. This is not only a great read, it is a needed read.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A gripping book that shines a warm yet piercing spotlight on a substrata of our civilization. Just hope you're not in that substrata. Still, though there are no easy answers, there is deep and abiding humanity there.

An easy, fluid read, each short chapter is from a different character's point of view. Each has his or her own dialect. You can tell Nussbaum is a playwright - she clearly has a terrific ear for dialogue, and you can easily imagine these characters saying these words on stage. Sometimes the language is rough, the images disturbing. But to me it all rings true. Imagine Junot Diaz mixed with Harriet McBryde Johnson's "Accidents of Nature" - it's that kind of natural street lingo, telling the interwoven tales of a group of kids with disabilities who are stuck in a neglectful, sometimes dangerous institution. But no caricatures here. Even the bad guys are believable and three-dimensional. A tour de force!
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