Summary and book reviews of Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum

Good Kings Bad Kings

By Susan Nussbaum

Good Kings Bad Kings
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  • Hardcover: May 2013,
    336 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2013,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

The powerful and inspiring debut from Susan Nussbaum, the 2012 winner of Barbara Kingsolver's PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, invites us into a landscape populated with young people whose lives have been irreversibly changed by misfortune but whose voices resound with resilience, courage, and humor.

Inside the halls of ILLC, an institution for juveniles with disabilities, we discover a place that is deeply different from and yet remarkably the same as the world outside. Nussbaum crafts a multifaceted portrait of a way of life hidden from most of us. In this isolated place on Chicago's South Side, friendships are forged, trust is built, and love affairs begin. It's in these alliances that the residents of this neglected community ultimately find the strength to bond together, resist their mistreatment, and finally fight back. And in the process, each is transformed.

Excerpt
Good Kings, Bad Kings

I put on my pink top that says BABY GIRL on the front and I put on different eye makeup because my other eye makeup got messed up from crying. I want to look good in case they got cameras. I put on some red, red lipstick that I'm keeping for Cheri when she comes back, if she does. I had a valentine Mia gave me that I saved up and I stuck that in my fanny pack. I didn't have nothing from Teddy or Pierre, so I wrote Teddy's name on my arm and put a heart around it, and I wrote Pierre's name on my other arm and drew a pencil like the one he stabbed Louie with. It didn't look like a pencil that much but it was a pencil. I took my chain I had bought at the hardware store and my lock from my locker at Hoover and put 'em in my bag hanging offa my chair, and I got my sign I made from under my bed. Then I went down the elevator and out the door. It was nice outside, kinda warm and sunny, and it felt like that feeling you get when it's Spring, but it is Spring ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the title of the book, and the passage that it comes from (page 135). How does this title relate to various characters in the novel
  2. Discuss the relationship of Jimmie and Yessie. What does Jimmie derive from their relationship? What does Yessie get from Jimmie?
  3. How do the disabled characters in this book compare with disabled characters in other books you've read?
  4. Why do you think the author used a first-person narrator approach to telling the story?
  5. Is it unusual to hear disabled characters tell their own stories? Why or why not? How might this impact the way you view disabled people in real life?
  6. How does Joanne's perspective on things change over the course of the novel, and why? Does she think differently about love?...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

I have always been fascinated by first books. I have found Good Kings, Bad Kings, Susan Nussbaum’s first novel, enthralling, exciting, funny, infuriating, and bracing in turn. Nussbaum has not created a linear, plot-based book, but rather a mosaic out of the inter-relationships of individual lives, whether in conflict, in power struggles, or in love. This book mirrors the way our lives are lived, not in any straight line but in the choices and responses to each other in the particulars of our lives.   (Reviewed by Bob Sauerbrey).

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Media Reviews
Author Blurb Barbara Kingsolver
This is fiction at its best. The story’s sharp eye allows no one to take shelter, and it doesn’t flinch; it is simply and breathtakingly honest . . . A stunning accomplishment.

Kirkus Reviews

Well-meaning, well-written and well-plotted, with qualified justice for some of the bad guys and hope for a few of the oppressed: A most appropriate winner of the 2012 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

School Library Journal

Each character tells his or her own story in alternating chapters with lively, diverse, authentic voices . . . Nussbaum will have readers rooting for these brave, vulnerable teens to fight for better lives.

Publishers Weekly

This is a stirring debut from a determined writer and activist.

Booklist

Starred Review. Nussbaum charms, outrages, and enlightens readers as she cycles among... characters, boldly contrasting the transcendence of love with the harsh realities of a negligent for-profit nursing home. This is unquestionably an authentic, galvanizing, and righteous novel.

The Wall Street Journal

Nussbaum wonderfully sweetens a stark subject with doses of idiosyncratic humor and hard-earned pathos . . . [she] upholds the individuality and integrity of her characters, never stooping to saccharine cliches or Hollywood manipulation . . . [a] moving story.

The Chicago Tribune

This is a world as foreign to most as another planet. That Nussbaum is able to make it as real and as painful and joyful and alive as she does is a spectacular accomplishment . . . a joy for readers.

Los Angeles Review of Books

A knockout . . . In Good Kings Bad Kings, we have the rare opportunity to be awakened by hearing the truth delivered with beauty alongside agony, despair interwoven with possibility.

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Fiction as Social Catalyst

In 2012, Susan Nussbaum won the PEN/Bellwether for Socially Engaged Fiction. This award, which was established in 2000 by Barbara Kingsolver, was created to "promote fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships." The award is given to an author of a not yet published novel that typifies its principles. The award also raises some fascinating questions. What is the place of literature in addressing social issues? Can literature be an effective catalyst for social change? Can literature enlighten us about the potential dangers or benefits of scientific, aesthetic, or moral/ethical re-visioning of our place on the Earth and of our responsibilities within that?

Much fiction, ...

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