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.
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).
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.
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.
This is a stirring debut from a determined writer and activist.
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.
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.
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, intended for pure enjoyment, will not change our worldview or our way of seeing ourselves. The simple pleasure of a good read is a legitimate function of fiction and is even necessary in the hectic world we live in. However, other literature asks us to reach beyond ourselves and experience the world in a manner that may change our vision of...
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