Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Harsh Language, Alcoholic mothers, Adolescence

Tales of The Madman Underground-By John Barnes

"It's not like that. I wanted to, Darla--shit, I still want to--but Hairball trusts me, and I can't kill a friend just to get laid. You know?"

-Karl Shoemaker, would be cat killer and womanizer

Plot Synopsis
: Wow, where to start? This novel is by the famed John Barnes, who is primarily known for his science fiction output, but with this literary hand grenade shows that he has a grasp for creating adolescent observation with great cynicism and humor. Through the eyes of Karl Shoemaker we are taken to Lightsburg Ohio (S**thole of the world) and on a journey through one teenager's quest to act normal, get laid, try and make money (without his drunk mother stealing it), and attend the therapy session known as THE MADMAN UNDERGROUND. This 500+ page read may scare the average YAL reader, but fear not, it is very compelling and often astounds with its dead on character portrayals and biting cynicism.

Quality: This novel is hilarious, and some of the dialogue is laden with f-bombs and other profanity. Barnes does not hold back on anything emboldening Shoemaker with a great wit and also someone we can warm to. He is a focal point for the majority of humor in the book, but laughs are also formed through his crazy mother (who has a love for Cats) and also the teachers and fellow members of his therapy group. There is not an exact plot as such, and the book is very unconventional while remaining relevant and outlandish. Its treatment of topics such as homosexuality, bullying, racism, and parents (and how they screw you up) are always amusing, but also left time for tearful moments (such as Karl's recollections of his dead father).

Highlights: For those of you who have read "Chinese Handcuffs", this novels also portrays similar cat carnage, although it is handled in a more emotional way here. What is it with all these dead cats in young adult literature? This novel really had me from the first few pages, and chapter highlights include "Don't be an asshole", "I was a Third-Grade Communist" and "Tales the Madmen never tell". This novel would be quite a challenge to teach in a classroom, but likely would also provide immediacy to readers of a certain age.

Blogged By Stuart Millar


Marcella said...

This book sounds like it would be useful in discussing what it means to be a teenager in our society. Is the expectation that teenagers have to be normal, get money, and get laid? Who decides what is a normal teenager? This type of discussion my inspire some self-reflection and evaluation. I do feel the length may discourage some independent readers as well as some teachers who do not have much time left in the academic year to read books they select instead of the district or school board selects. The chapters notes sound interesting and I am a fan of using chapters if the entire book can not be read. Sometimes reading chapers can be more useful than reading the entire book and may even inspire some independence and cause the student to read the entire book on their own.

Stu1980 said...

It is pretty long, but Barnes has a good style of writing that does not lose your attention. I would definitely say that the chapter format works best in a book like this also.

averch said...

Wow this seems like a book that is a lot to swallow. I like how you compared it to "Chinese Handcuffs". I really think that's a good comparison. It almost seems like a Holden, "Catcher In the Rye" feel too. As holden tries to feel "Normal", so it seems does the main character of this book. It definitly will be on my list of reads.

Anne said...

This book sounds like it deals with several important issues; and that the author has been able to do it in one book. Your review definately puts it on my to-read list. Also, the poem on youtube I thought was hilarious and a nice touch.

Caitlin Strandquist said...

This book sounds great! I like the idea of this book as maybe a recommendation to a more advanced student to read outside class, or over the summer. It might be hard to teach in class, just because of the profanity.

Mallory Umar said...

This sounds like a great book to discuss the "quest of a teenager". Making money, fitting in, and having sex are at the top of the priority list for some teens. Parents seem to ruin your chances of all of the above by simply existing.