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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