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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)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.