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Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes

Posted by Caitie F on December 19, 2013

Title: Tales of the Madmen Underground067006081X.01._SX140_SY224_SCLZZZZZZZ_
Author: John Barnes
Hardcover: 544 pages
Pub Date: June 25, 2009
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Rating: ++++

Summary from pub:

Wednesday, September 5, 1973: The first day of Karl Shoemaker’s senior year in stifling Lightsburg, Ohio. For years, Karl’s been part of what he calls “the Madman Underground” – a group of kids forced (for no apparent reason) to attend group therapy during school hours. Karl has decided that senior year is going to be different. He is going to get out of the Madman Underground for good. He is going to act – and be – Normal. But Normal, of course, is relative. Karl has five after-school jobs, one dead father, one seriously unhinged drunk mother . . . and a huge attitude. Welcome to a gritty, uncensored roller coaster ride, narrated by the singular Karl Shoemaker.


This book is on my list because it got a Printz Honor in 2010 and while they are not always my favorite books, the books that get this honor bring fresh voices and stories to the age group.

Well, this isn’t one of my favorite books ever, but it was very good and is a book that young adults really should read. I have read several books that have made me cry lately, and this is one of them. You sit there reading about how hard Karl works and how hard he tries to be normal and be the responsible one that everyone can come to, then you remember that this character is a teenager. And there are many teens that are in this situation today, who run their households, hold several jobs and go to school, and who have to deal with really shitty parents and other relatives. They have to look out for their younger siblings and try to hold it all together so their family doesn’t get torn apart. it sucks. It sucks so much and  these stories need to be told.

Even if you can’t relate to their stories, and I hope most people cannot, it will still move you. The great thing is these kids who are going through this aren’t written as being saints or as being just screw ups. They are as complex and flawed as everyone else and they still talk and act like teenagers, even though they are forced to grow up more quickly. As I read I just wanted to yell “Karl! Talk to these people! They care about you and want to help you!”, but I saw exactly why he didn’t because the author did such a good job of completely developing the character.

The book isn’t all doom and gloom though. It is also very funny at times. I was laughing out loud in public at times. It also shows a goodness in so many of the characters that it is not a depressing read, it just has some depressing parts. So much of it is a book about friendship and being there for your friends no matter what, something we can all connect with.

Another things that makes this book stand out is the actual action takes place in just one week. This 544 page book is one week of this kid’s life, so you find out so much. There are some flashbacks to before, which are woven in seamlessly, but most everything is in that week. I would love to see more novels for any age so contained in time because it opens up the character.

It does require an excellent writer to write a book that takes place in that short amount of time. It never felt like there was no way all of this could happen in a week. I don’t think many authors could make it feel that way, but John Barnes did.

This is a wonderful book and I think everyone should read it and pass it on to a teen they know.


2 Responses to “Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes”

  1. […] book with up or down (or equivalent) in the title:  Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes […]

  2. […] one! There was a lot of tearing up this year though. Honorable Mentions include Unbroken and Tales of the Madman Underground by John […]

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