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Tales of the Madman Underground Hardcover – June 25, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Grade 9 Up–Karl Shoemaker, in group therapy at school since fourth grade, turns a new leaf on the first day of senior year, 1973. His goal is to be normal and avoid therapy while still keeping his friends, who are all part of the Madman Underground. Karl's widowed mother is an alcoholic, hippie, conspiracy-theorist slut who steals his earnings (he has five jobs) for benders. At one time or another, most Madmen are locked out of their houses by drunk or absent parents, or don't go home to avoid getting beaten, or felt up. They depend on one another's hospitality by way of empty basements, open windows, and unlocked cars. Barnes writes with amazing ease and clarity. He has a light, immediate feel for character, and the ensemble of Madmen, teachers, parents, and crotchety townspeople is distinct and fully formed. Dialogue between Karl and this motley crew is mostly hilarious, expletive laden, and consistently flawless. Karl's conversations with Marti, the newest Madman, are among the most heart-melting in teen literature. Barnes's descriptions of small-town Ohio defy the usual pitfalls of the back-when-the-author-was-a-teen setting–Lightsburg is so believably backward it seems timeless. While a moral dilemma may seem an underwhelming plot device, Karl's psychological journey is consistently gripping. His narration is so easy and engaging, so sweet and funny, so astonishingly truthful that teens will rip through these 500-plus pages and want more.–Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* After a long career in science fiction, Barnes has taken a heroic stab at the Great American Novel. Set over the span of just six days in 1973—but weighing in at more than 500 pages—Barnes’ coming-of-age epic is overlong, tangled with tangents, and takes a kitchen-sink approach when it comes to teenage trauma. Yet rarely will you read something so lovingly vulgar, so fiercely warmhearted, and so exuberantly expansive that even its long-windedness becomes part of its rogue charm. It’s the story of Karl Shoemaker, a senior starting the first week of classes in his blue-collar Ohio town. This year he’s determined to execute Operation Be Fucking Normal, but that isn’t easy when he is working five jobs to pay the bills of his drunkard, star-child mother; wakes up early to clean up the poop from their zillions of cats (and bury the dead ones in their backyard Cat Arlington); and is deeply connected to the other kids forced to take school therapy—aka the Madman Underground. The plot is slight, but Karl’s fellow madmen revel in their wild tales of survival and revenge, and the culmination comes off like a high-school One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Always ambitious, often caustic, and frequently moving. Grades 9-12. --Daniel Kraus

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (June 25, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067006081X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670060818
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.8 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,124,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

My thirty-first commercially published novel came out in September 2013. I've published about 5 million words that I got paid for. So I'm an abundantly published very obscure writer.

I used to teach in the Communication and Theatre program at Western State College. I got my PhD at Pitt in the early 90s, masters degrees at U of Montana in the mid 80s, bachelors at Washington University in the 70s; worked for Middle South Services in New Orleans in the early 80s. For a few years I did paid blogging mostly about the math of marketing analysis at TheCMOSite and All Analytics, and lately I've been covering tech, especially space, stories in the Government section of Information Week. If any of that is familiar to you, then yes, I am THAT John Barnes.

There are also at least 60 Johns Barneses I am not. Among the more interesting ones I am not:
1. the Jamaican-born British footballer who scored that dramatic goal against Brazil
2. the occasional Marvel bit role who is the grandson of Captain America's sidekick
3. the Vietnam-era Medal of Honor winner
4&5. the lead singer for the Platters (and neither he nor I is the lead singer for the Nightcrawlers)
6.the Australian rules footballer
7. the former Red Sox pitcher
8. the Tory MP
9. the expert on ADA programming
10&11. the Cleveland-area member of the Ohio House of Representatives (though we're almost the same age and both grew up in northern Ohio) who is also not the former member of the Indiana House that ran for state senate in 2012 (one of them is a Democrat, one a Republican, and I'm a Socialist)
12. the former president of Boise State University
13. the film score composer
14. the longtime editor of The LaTrobe Journal
15. the biographer of Eva Peron
16. the manager of Panther Racing
17. the British diplomat (who is not the Tory MP above)
18. the conservative Catholic cultural commentator (now there's an alliterative job)
19. the authority on Dante
20. the mycologist
21. the author of Marketing Judo (though I have an acute interest in both subjects)
22. the travel writer
23. the author of Titmice of the British Isles
24. the guy who does some form of massage healing that I don't really understand at all
25. the corp-comm guy for BP (though I've taught and consulted on corp-comm)
26. the film historian,
27. the Pittsburgh-area gay rights activist (though we used to get each others' mail)
28. the guy who skipped Missoula, Montana on bad check charges just before I moved there
29. the policeman in Gunnison, Colorado, the smallest town I've ever lived in, though he busted some of my students and I taught some of his arrestees
30. the wildlife cinematographer who made Love and Death on the Veldt and shot some of the Disney True Life Adventures ("Hortense the Presybterian Wombat" and the like) or
31. that guy that Ma said was my father.

And despite perennial confusion by some science fiction fans and readers, I'm not Steve Barnes and he's not me, and we are definitely not related, though we enjoy seeing each other and occasionally corresponding (not often enough).

I used to think I was the only paid consulting statistical semiotician for business and industry in the world, but I now know four of them, and can find websites for about ten more.

Semiotics is pretty much what Louis Armstrong said about jazz, except jazz paid a lot better for him than semiotics does for me. If you're trying to place me in the semiosphere, I am a Peircean (the sign is three parts, ), a Lotmanian (art, culture, and mind are all populations of those tripartite signs) and a statistician (the mathematical structures and forms that can be found within those populations of signs are the source of meaning). The branch in which I do consulting work is the mathematics and statistics of large populations of signs, which has applications in marketing, poll analysis, and annoying the literary theorists who want to keep semiotics all to themselves.

I have been married three times, and divorced twice, and I believe that's quite enough in both categories. I'm a hobby cook, sometime theatre artist, and still going through the motions after many years in martial arts.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Teen Reads on July 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Karl Shoemaker has one goal for his senior year: be normal. He plans on taking it one day at a time, and his quest for normalcy includes letting go of the abnormal in his life. This involves intentionally avoiding his best friend Paul, actually taking college-track classes, meeting new people (girls especially), stopping enabling his alcoholic mother, and staying afloat with his five jobs. Above all else, Karl is looking to punch his ticket out of what he believes is really holding him back: group therapy.

For some reason, teachers in the '70s thought school-mandated therapy was the best response for kids with problems. With 17 counselors (and counting) over the past five years or so, the Madman Underground certainly has their share of problems. One of the members talks to a stuffed rabbit she carries around, another has crying jags over the littlest things, and the file grows thicker for every other person in the group. Not even a brand new member, a girl named Marti who Karl immediately hits it off with, can keep Karl from wanting to return to the place where "normal" is left at the door. Karl wasn't always a part of group therapy, though, and he believes there is hope for leaving Lightsburg, Ohio --- and his family's past --- behind.

The Shoemaker name is famous in Lightsburg, and no one will let Karl forget it. His father, Doug, was a widely popular mayor until an unfortunate political scandal and then an even more untimely death. His mother never quite recovered, and her already heavy drinking led to full-blown alcoholism. Karl never knows what kind of mother will show up on a daily basis and usually manages to tiptoe around her drunken rages.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A. Bennett on April 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I thought this book would be my kind of book and I was right. This coming-of-age story set during the first six days of the school year in 1973 in a blue-collar town in Ohio had everything I like in a YA novel: angst-ridden teens who are actually trying to better their lives; superb writing which is humorous and poignant in turns; historically accurate; characters who are multifaceted-- not just one-dimensional; and dialogue which seems real and well-timed.

Karl Shoemaker wants his senior year to be 'normal' rather than one dominated by the drama associated with the forced therapy group he has been a part of since 4th grade. As he tries to distance himself from the group he realizes that he can't and doesn't want to distance himself from the friends he has made in the group, The Madman Underground. This rag-tag group of kids who all have pretty hefty problems are truly his support network. Adults, like his hippie, cat-loving, alcoholic mother, may let him down but the members of the Madman Underground never do.

The subtitle of this book is: A Historical Romance, 1973. I was in high school in 1973 so I was on the lookout for authentic, accurate cultural references and the book was full of them. Here are a few that I found charming/funny: Karl sprayed his pits (he put on deodorant); the hoods came in the bathroom to smoke (the drug-users, hard-core kids--most schools at that time period had a smoking area but often the hoods would come inside and smoke in the bathroom when the weather was bad outside); Marti drove a Ford LTD (I think half of my friends' parents had LTDs when I was in high school); she was such a J.D.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo on August 20, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Gold Star Award Winner!

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 since his dad died.)

And there's the cats. So many of them in his house. Karl constantly has to clean up their messes and even bury the ones that die before his mother sees him. (He never knows what is going to set her off.) He can't even keep his earnings in a bank because his mother would have access to them and she would spend it all. (And hiding his money around the house only works occasionally.)

He also has to find a way to get out of the "Madmen" class - required counseling for students identified as "troubled." How can anyone appear normal under those circumstances?

But Karl takes it one day at a time. If he can make it through the first day of school appearing normal, then he can make it through the first week. Once a week of appearing normal passes, he'll be able to begin the next week.

Even though Karl has plans to work around his known obstacles, he has several other hurdles to overcome. Is the best friend he was going to avoid actually avoiding him? And what about the new girl? The one whose mom likes to party with his?

Will Karl be able to shed his madman reputation? And how important is it to appear normal?

Read TALES OF THE MADMAN UNDERGROUND and experience six days of Karl's life in 1973. It'll be a trip.

Reviewed by: Dianna Geers
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