Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes
What’s it about? It’s 1973 and Karl Shoemaker’s life is in disarray. After his dad died Karl’s mother forgot how to be a mother so she became an alcoholic instead. She steals all the money he makes from his five-after school jobs and goes to bed with a new man each night. Because of his life situation, his high school sends him and seven other kids to group therapy. His best friend, Paul, calls them the “Madman Underground”. This year though, Karl is determined to be normal, or, at least, as normal as a guy with his life can be. The first step to normalcy is leaving the Madman Underground for good. But can Karl really leave the people who not only know all his stories, but have shared all of theirs as well? Find out in this hilarious, uncensored, and utterly crazy novel by John Barnes.
What I thought of it & why I picked it up: Oh. My. Gosh. You have no idea how hard it was for me to write that summary. Mostly because I was just dying to tell you guys all about how amazing this book was. Seriously, I know I’ve said this before but this time I’m being legit, DROP EVERYTHING AND GO GET THIS BOOK! The five hundred pages may seem daunting at first but trust me it is so worth it. The thing that really amazed me about Tales of the Madman Underground was how much history was in it. And I don’t mean actual stuff about the history of America and such. I mean all of the backstory’s that each and every character had. Everything was just so…developed. Karl, the town he lived in, his family, coworkers, friends, even his mother’s friends! The book really only spans about six days but its massive and you’ve got to wonder how they could take up so many pages but that’s why. There was just so much to tell the reader. And you know me. A sucker for anything with good characters. I fell in love with this book immediately. By the end of the novel, Barnes had me relating to every character, EVEN the bad ones. He also had me cracking up and feeling nostalgia for the seventies. Not that I was alive during the 70’s…BUT STILL. That’s the point. Barnes made me feel included. Another thing I liked was that the author didn’t “use” characters. I have issues with this myself while writing. I tend to just put certain characters in a situation just so that I can have the main characters have some kind of moment. Doing this you tend to forget that every person has a story and that you can’t just mold them for your own benefit. Barnes didn’t do this. Everything was relevant and flowed nicely and if some scene ended up being all meaningful then that was great but it didn’t rush the philosophical moments. I think anyone who wants to be an author someday should read this. You’ll certainly learn a thing or two about how to write and create characters as real as you or me. Overall, Karl is an awesome narrator (although he cusses like a sailor) and the plot was surprising but still great. I’m not asking you to read this book. I’m TELLING you to.
I would suggest this for: Everyone…except maybe kids under the age of 13…
Reviewed by: Lauren B, grade 8.