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Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973

Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973

4.1 20
by John Barnes

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"The Catcher in the Rye meets On the Road"*-The Printz Honor book is a classic in the making!

September 1973: The beginning of Karl Shoemaker's senior year in stifling Lightsburg, Ohio. For years, Karl's been part of "the Madman Underground"- kids forced to attend group therapy during school. Karl has decided that he is going to get out of the Madman


"The Catcher in the Rye meets On the Road"*-The Printz Honor book is a classic in the making!

September 1973: The beginning of Karl Shoemaker's senior year in stifling Lightsburg, Ohio. For years, Karl's been part of "the Madman Underground"- kids forced to attend group therapy during school. Karl has decided that he is going to get out of the Madman Underground for good. He is going to act-and be-Normal. But Normal, of course, is relative. Karl has two after-school jobs, one dead father, one seriously unhinged drunk mother . . . and a huge attitude. Welcome to a gritty, uncensored rollercoaster ride, narrated by the singular Karl Shoemaker.

*The Horn Book

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Rarely will you read something so lovingly vulgar, so fiercely warmhearted, and so exuberantly expansive . . . the culmination comes off like a teenage One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." -Booklist, starred review

"His narration is so easy and engaging, so sweet and funny, so astonishingly truthful that teens will rip through these 500-plus pages and want more." -School Library Journal, starred review

"Darkly comic . . . as troubled, relevant, relatable and hilarious as J.D. Salinger." -Los Angeles Times

Publishers Weekly

High school senior Karl Shoemaker just wants to be normal. Since fourth grade, Karl has been unable to escape the stigma of the Madman Underground, a school therapy group for screwed-up kids (he earned the nickname "Psycho" after cutting up a classmate's rabbit in seventh grade). But with a drunken, hippie mom who believes that Nixon is in cahoots with aliens and who steals Karl's hard-earned money, a horde of pet cats that leave droppings everywhere and a claustrophobic hometown that still worships his deceased father (the former mayor), Karl's quest for normalcy seems doomed. In his YA debut, Barnes masterfully turns what should be a depressing tale about teenage misfits who are regularly abused, molested or neglected into a strangely heartwarming story about a kid who refuses to suck the lemons life keeps handing him, the bonds of friendship and the lengths a son will go to protect his mother. The language is R-rated, but with Breakfast Club-like realism, Barnes delivers scenes from which, like a car wreck, readers will be unable to look away. Ages 14-up. (June)

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. . . rarely will you read something so lovingly vulgar, so fiercely warmhearted, and so exuberantly expansive that even its long-windedness becomes part of its rogue charm., starred review
Horn Book
The real draw of this novel lies in the brilliant character study of Karl Shoemaker.
VOYA - Denzil Sikka
Karl Shoemaker has only one wish: to be normal. Of course, if wishes were cattle, he'd be eating steak everyday. Karl has been attending group therapy for years, but now that he's a senior, he's had enough. Join Karl as he learns what being normal really means. Barnes creates a mind-captivating story that depicts a realistic and fast-paced world with great character development. You won't be able to put it down. Reviewer: Denzil Sikka, Teen Reviewer
VOYA - Lauri Vaughan
When asked what message he would like readers to take from his work, science fiction writer Barnes responded to the Web interview question, "Don't be lonely. There's love someplace, especially for the hopelessly odd (http://www.hardsciencefiction.rogerdeforest.com/?mode=8&id=7). And you are carrying around the love someone else needs. Better get that delivered. Look for someone odd." Barnes' first foray into young adult fiction brings his response to life in Karl Shoemaker, a young man who attempts to put together a normal senior year, one hour at a time. First step: avoid life-long friend Paul and other fellow members of the Madman Underground, a tight-knit group who share weekly therapy sessions to overcome severely dysfunctional situations. Karl's problems arise from the death of his father, former beloved mayor of the small Ohio town where Paul lives. Karl loves and misses his father, but he struggles to become something other than "Doug Shoemaker's kid." Of more immediate concern is his alcoholic, firebrand mom, Beth, who steals Karl's caches of savings for her nightly jags. Teens initially turned off by Barnes's liberal use of profanities and the book's length will be captured by the sharp, funny dialogue and crisp personalities of the Madmen. Even minor characters are distinctive. Readers can understand Karl's love for his mom who, despite horrific failings, retains lovable qualities. Barnes lets his story play out; pacing is excellent and despite its length, the story flies to a satisfying conclusion. Barnes's YA debut is an excellent selection for book clubs of older teens that like sinking their teeth into longer stories with substance. Reviewer: Lauri Vaughan
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up–Karl Shoemaker, in group therapy at school since fourth grade, turns a new leaf on the first day of senior year, 1973. His goal is to be normal and avoid therapy while still keeping his friends, who are all part of the Madman Underground. Karl’s widowed mother is an alcoholic, hippie, conspiracy-theorist slut who steals his earnings (he has five jobs) for benders. At one time or another, most Madmen are locked out of their houses by drunk or absent parents, or don’t go home to avoid getting beaten, or felt up. They depend on one another’s hospitality by way of empty basements, open windows, and unlocked cars. Barnes writes with amazing ease and clarity. He has a light, immediate feel for character, and the ensemble of Madmen, teachers, parents, and crotchety townspeople is distinct and fully formed. Dialogue between Karl and this motley crew is mostly hilarious, expletive laden, and consistently flawless. Karl’s conversations with Marti, the newest Madman, are among the most heart-melting in teen literature. Barnes’s descriptions of small-town Ohio defy the usual pitfalls of the back-when-the-author-was-a-teen setting–Lightsburg is so believably backward it seems timeless. While a moral dilemma may seem an underwhelming plot device, Karl’s psychological journey is consistently gripping. His narration is so easy and engaging, so sweet and funny, so astonishingly truthful that teens will rip through these 500-plus pages and want more.–Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library
Kirkus Reviews
With excruciating, mind-numbing detail and a lot of swear words, 17-year-old Karl chronicles the first six days of his senior year. Karl's biggest antagonist is his mother, a crazy cat lady who drinks like a fish, acts like a teenager and talks like a second grader. Because of his mother, Karl works four jobs and squirrels away his money in jars around the house. His friends at school enjoy equally dysfunctional lives. In less than a week, Karl redefines his friendships and almost loses his virginity twice. At its high points, the story moves swiftly through witty dialogue and heartbreaking observations of parental cruelty. At its low points, which far outnumber the high ones, Karl is obnoxious, even terrifying in his antisocial behavior, and his friends are unbelievable in their ridiculousness. Due to its length and the frustration of waiting some 100 pages between the start and continuation of some story lines, only the most stubborn of readers will stay past the 37 dead cats to the tiresome, if very tidy, ending. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)
Children's Literature - Maggie Chase
I will admit it, I had to work hard to stay with this book. Now that I have finished it, I am willing to re-read it, since it was not until close to the end that I began to appreciate the protagonist Karl Shoemaker. The 500 plus page story is told completely from Karl's point of view, so with it we get his extremely cuss-laden inner speech (which, interestingly, ceases almost completely by the fifth day of this six-day tale), as well as his somewhat sophomoric and unsophisticated point of view. Three pages into his tale, he tells us that his hair "clung blandly to my skull like chocolate pudding running down a bowling ball." When is the last—or even first—time you saw chocolate pudding doing that? It reminded me of the annual contest for worst similes. But again, I had to remind myself that Karl is the speaker here, not Mr. Barnes, and Karl is definitely talking to us with his high school, hormone-driven body and mind. Nevertheless, he is a good kid who struggles valiantly and admirably to hold his life together—to be normal—given that he has been dealt some tough cards: an alcoholic mother who has not grown up and is incredibly self-centered, and a small town hero of a dad who has died prematurely. What I began to appreciate about the book is the way Karl and his friends stick together, the work ethic and responsibility Karl demonstrates, and the way several adults in this community look out for and respect him. Karl's goal to be a normal kid suffers many setbacks in this first week of his senior year, including trying to catch the cat who keeps using his bed as a litter box, working four sometimes five jobs to stay ahead of his mother's irresponsible spending sprees on booze and parties, and his troubling fallout with a lifelong friend. The enigmatic title will not attract readers to this book, but perhaps a book talk that includes reading a few eventful or humorous scenes will, sans the numerous f-bombs. Reviewer: Maggie Chase

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.50(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

This is the acclaimed novelist John Barnes's first book for teenagers.

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Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For my taste xP
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book in print and love love loved it! I am not gonna lie it had those slow parts but if it didnt i wouldnt of slept for days!
-BRINK- More than 1 year ago
A really genuine and intriguing book. Amazing characterization, voice and diction. There's enough plot to keep things going but not so much that you're scratching your head. There's humor sprinkled throughout but there are some serious issues touched upon. Barnes's writing style is very similar to that of John Green, who I really love also.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Absolutely stunning.
Jonah Guy More than 1 year ago
Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes follows the character Karl Shoemaker over the course of about a week. Karl has been in group therapy every year since fourth grade. He is determined his senior year will be the year he gets out. He begins to act what he describes as "normal". However, he has many things in his way, such as his alcoholic mother, and reputation as "psycho". I liked the characters in this novel, each having their own unique stories and challenges. I also liked Karl's sarcastic and very lighthearted attitude towards everything around him. I did not like however, just one of the therapy group members, Darla. Darla, hates most of the therapy group members except Karl, and has a very strange attitude, and almost killed her younger brother, yet we are still supposed to like her? I sure didn't. Tales of the Madman Underground is a very great book about social issues, taken to the extremes. Its 544 pages might seem daunting at first, but is well worth the effort.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tysheema Holmes More than 1 year ago
Loved it. The setting, dialogue,voice, and characterization were superb. I loved all the dysfunctional characters,funny situations and colorful description. However I dont consider it a historical romance. Its more of a coming of age story. A great read.
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George Knierbein More than 1 year ago
i love this book. its funny and different but in a good way! its a nice change from vampires and ghosts that 'have feelings.' all in all, one of my favorite books of all time!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved it! The story is fun and exciting. It really shows you the tough life some people have. I loved this story and really recommend it.
EdNY More than 1 year ago
I really liked Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes. I didn't expect to, but it caught me from the first chapter. Karl Shoemaker is the narrator. It's his senior year in high school and he's got a plan. He wants to be normal..for just one year. He's going to distance himself from the Madmen Underground, his therapy group since forever. But it's easier said than done. First, he's going to sneak out of the house early and grab the first bus to school, leaving his best friend, Paul, alone on the late bus. He gets his foot in the door just as Jolene, the bus driver and his mother's drinking buddy, is about to close it. What does he see ahead of him? Paul, who totally ignores him. It's going to be that kind of year. The Madmen Underground is comprised of 7 or 8 kids who have problems like drinking, having alcoholic parents, being abandoned by their parents, having lecherous relatives or abusive parents. In his first class of the day, he sits next to Marti, who he soon finds out is joining the Madmen. She wants to be his friend. Things are not going well for normalcy. Tales of the Madman Underground recounts six days of Karl's life and includes countless flashbacks. Karl works hard and saves his money, but his mother keeps finding it and 'borrowing' it, hitting the bars, leaving IOUs that will never get paid. They've got a houseful of cats who keep crapping on the floor and on his bed. Darla, another Madman, brings her stuffed bunny, Mr. Babbitt, to school and converses with it. Paul's father verbally abuses him. It goes on and on, each Madman having his/her own personal demons. The book, set in 1973, is serious and funny and hopeful. It is cast with wonderful characters. You'll love them, empathize with them, give them a smack on the head. You can visualize each situation. The setting of 1973 brings an interesting element to the book. Tales is a hard book to describe but it's well worth reading. Go for it.it won't be a normal book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Karl has a plan for his senior year. It's to be normal. Or at least to appear to be normal. Forever he has been known as slightly crazy and a target of harassment. There are a ton of obstacles that will make it difficult to pull of the "normal" appearance. First of all, he has to avoid his very best friend in the world. Not to mention the fact that he has to work endless hours to help support his mother and himself. (She has been off the deep end ever since his dad died.) And there's the cats. So many of them in his house. Karl constantly has to clean up their messes and even bury the ones that die before his mother sees him. (He never knows what is going to set her off.) He can't even keep his earnings in a bank because his mother would have access to them and she would spend it all. (And hiding his money around the house only works occasionally.) He also has to find a way to get out of the "Madmen" class - required counseling for students identified as "troubled." How can anyone appear normal under those circumstances? But Karl takes it one day at a time. If he can make it through the first day of school appearing normal, then he can make it through the first week. Once a week of appearing normal passes, he'll be able to begin the next week. Even though Karl has plans to work around his known obstacles, he has several other hurdles to overcome. Is the best friend he was going to avoid actually avoiding him? And what about the new girl? The one whose mom likes to party with his? Will Karl be able to shed his madman reputation? And how important is it to appear normal? Read TALES OF THE MADMAN UNDERGROUND and experience six days of Karl's life in 1973. It'll be a trip.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago