Wednesday, September 5, 1973 is the first day of Karl Shoemaker’s senior year of high school, and the first day of “Operation Be F-ing Normal.”
In John Barnes’ first novel for young readers, tales of the MADMAN underground, we’re on a sometimes painful, often hilarious, uncensored journey through the first six days of Karl’s senior year as he tries to change his life by just being “normal, normal, normal.” In a small Ohio town, Karl’s been part of a therapy group at school dubbed “the Madmen” for years, and he’s decided that he wants out. He wants a normal life, but the question is, can he achieve it? His dad’s dead, his mom has fallen into substance abuse, and he’s stuck working 5 jobs, hiding money from his mom, and struggling to keep himself & his mom a float.
Barnes interweaves the detail of Karl’s days & nights with vivid memories of his life, making for a powerful and compelling character-driven novel. Karl is a good guy – he looks out for his friends, his mom, other people in his life – but he’s struggling against a system that has pigeonholed him because of a cruel mistake he made when he was younger. Teens will identify with many of the themes Barnes explores in this book: loyalty, self-preservation, friendship, alienation, conformity, hypocrisy, and family struggles. They’ll also appreciate Karl’s candid and ironic perspective on his life, while at the same time, grimace in recognition of just how hard it is to cope with everything that is thrown at him.
Unprecedented realism demonstrated in realistic dialogue (profanity is prolific), character development, and themetaic situations (substance abuse, abuse/neglect, alienation, homophobia) make tales of the MADMAN underground an amazingly powerful YA novel.
- Posted by Cori