Author: John Barnes
Publication Date: 5/28/09
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Blurb (GR): 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 rollercoaster ride, narrated by the singular Karl Shoemaker.
At first, this books is hilarious, then it is sad, heartbreaking and scary and later it is inspiring. To think of it, my favorite kind of book.
Karl Shoemaker is determined to start his senior of high school being completely "normal." After spending years in mandatory group therapy with other madmen (abused, traumatized and plain crazy kids) after a disturbing rabbit killing incident, Karl for once wants to separate himself from the mad group and be a part of the "normal" school population. But can he have any claim to normality though? With 5 jobs, house full of cats and a "super super lady" mother who is constantly drunk and doped up, who brings a new boyfriend every night and steals Karl's hard-earned money to buy booze and pot? Hm, maybe not.
I'll be frank, there were a few times while reading this novel when I caught myself thinking - isn't it a bit over the top? can it really happen like this? can these things go on and no adult cares? Karl's fellow madmen are a messed-up bunch indeed - a molested cheerleader, an emotionally unstable farmboy/jock, a batshit crazy girl who talks through her toy rabbit and who attempted to blind her younger brother, a gay boy who resorts to turning tricks when things at home are rough. But. But. But. There is so much color in these character, so much vibrancy, there is so much humor in Karl's foul-mouthed, horny, profane narrative, that I found myself overlooking the soapy parts of it.
Every year Printz committee searches for new and unique voices in YA literature. Sometimes I dislike what they unearth and celebrate. But Karl Shoemaker and his Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973 will stay with me for awhile.