Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum
Algonquin • $23.95 • ISBN 9781616202637
published May 28, 2013


Stories told from alternating perspectives catch me every time, and Good Kings Bad Kings is no exception. Susan Nussbaum has created a powerful debut novel, the winner of this year's Barbara Kingsolver's PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.  Nussbaum's story gives readers a look into the lives of institutionalized juveniles with disabilities, including Yessenia Lopez, who just wants to be living free again, and Teddy, who dresses in a suit and tie every day. The voices of these children and others are joined by those of caring employees working at the Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center, like Joanne, the data-entry clerk. Throughout the pages, friendship, love and trust are explored as these characters forge relationships that will give them the strength they need to fight back against their mistreatment.

Nussbaum's novel is a challenging look at institutions and what being disabled really means. Humor and authentic voices pair together to make this novel one that will leave you thinking about the choices you make every day. Here's an excerpt from Joanne's point-of-view:

My duties are mostly typing. There must have been dozens of far more appropriate applicants. People who type with all ten fingers, for example. But for the first—and I feel pretty certain only—time I think I got a job because of my disability. It's well known in  crip circles that the best place for a crip to get a job is a place that's swarming with other crips. So I applied, emphasizing my computer skills, which are pretty good, and how important it is for disabled youth to see disabled adults in the workplace. Places like this love the idea of role models. There was no haggling over the miserable pay either, as money is no object for me. No salary could possibly be too low. The place could pay me in rat turds and I'd happily put them in my wallet. What I needed more than money was human interaction.

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