11 August 2010

Tales from the Madman Underground; John Barnes

Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973 by John Barnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know how I missed reading this earlier, but this is a perfect back-to-school book.

Karl Shoemaker's first week of senior year is supposed to be his ticket to "normal" - he's leaving the self-described Madman Underground, a disparate group of students who have some sort of troubled home life (incest, alcoholism, missing parents, etc.) that causes them to act out in school. He's also only a few months sober, recently broken up with his girlfriend, and trying to keep his alcoholic, hippie mother somewhat on track. Of course, as always happens when one makes plans, things don't go the way Karl plans.

The six days described in the book are so filled, I got tired reading it! Thinking back to my days in school, it made me wonder how many of my peers were having similar lives - working several jobs, dealing with dysfunctional families, and trying to act normal during the school day. Sometimes it felt as though Karl's life was a little too full.

As the first week draws to a close, events move even faster. As Karl tries to make decisions about his place in the Underground, and how to deal with his friends (including his imploding friendship with Paul), not to mention losing his virginity to a girl that thinks he's the next Charles Manson, normal seems far away. Again, there is so much packed in that it doesn't feel as though the action is taking place in one 24-hour period. Of course, by the end, Karl's life does move solidly into the normal range: he's learned that there are adults that will take care of him, and that being a kid is ok.

My guess is that this was set in the 70s because our ideas of what 'normal' for students lives was different: child services weren't as on top of things, latchkey children were common, and things were somewhat simpler. However, it would have been easy to move this into the modern era, particularly since this is set in Ohio, where there's a different mindset than in coastal urban areas.

Copy provided by publisher.

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