Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Good Kings Bad Kings

Good Kings Bad KingsGood Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To summarize this book as best I can, it is essentially a new, modern version of Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Primary differences are: It's written from a variety of perspectives (rather than just one.
2. The institutionalized characters are adolescent "crips" (i.e. physically and sometimes mentally handicapped) rather than mentally handicapped adults.

However, just like Kesey's novel, Good Kings Bad Kings looks at an institution that, on the surface, is meant for good, and goes inside the walls, looking at it from the perspectives of not only "inmates," but also staff who work there and witness injustices yet feel powerless to prevent them.

While Nussbaum does a fantastic job of capturing the voices of lower class children and adults both with and without learning disabilities, I was especially impressed with her decision to include chapters written from the perspective Michelle, a female recruiter whose job it is to fill beds at ILLC, an institution for juveniles with disabilities. Michelle's chapters demonstrate that strictly vilifying everyone involved in running these sorts of institutions isn't quite fair . . . or accurate. She is just a middle-to-lowerclass woman trying to make it through life without always having to scrape the bottom of her piggybank to make ends meet. She doesn't necessarily set out to lock away perfect normal young people; she just wants to do her job and get praise and approval from her boss--like any of us. Michelle's chapters bring very necessary balance to this novel, making it more than just a captor-captive story.

Well done, Susan Nussbaum. I look forward to reading whatever you write next.

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: Speak

SpeakSpeak by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anderson does a great job capturing the internal voice of 9th grade Melinda. I especially love the way she does dialogue and makes up nicknames for the other characters. For instance, there's a teacher she refers to as Mr. Neck. If she and Mr. Neck were conversing, it would go something like:

Mr. Neck: What are you doing in here?

Me: Nothing

Mr. Neck: Doesn't look like nothing.


Leaving that blank in lieu of writing something like "I don't respond" is brilliant, especially in a book where the point is that Melinda cannot seem to speak up for herself.

I will admit, from the outset I did know what the Big Secret was, but because it was so predictable, I'm glad that Anderson didn't drag out the process of revealing it. She gets it into the first half of the book without too much fanfare, and we the readers are left to focus on what really matters: Melinda's coping mechanisms; her relationships with fellow students, former friends, and teachers; her family dynamic; etc. I also really like the fact that while there is clearly a romantic interest between Melinda and her lab partner, it doesn't ever blossom into a full subplot and, consequently, threaten to take over the focus of the novel.

The ending, too, was predictable (you know there's another confrontation coming between her and IT), but I don't think it could have ended any other way.

Now, I really just want to see the art teacher's mural. Come on fan fiction artists!

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