GOOD KINGS BAD KINGS
This powerful and inspiring debut invites us into a landscape populated with young people whose lives have been irreversibly changed by misfortune but whose voices resound with resilience, courage, and humor. Inside the halls of ILLC, an institution for juveniles with disabilities, we discover a place that is deeply different from and yet remarkably the same as the world outside.
This powerful and inspiring debut invites us into a landscape populated with young people whose lives have been irreversibly changed by misfortune but whose voices resound with resilience, courage, and humor. Inside the halls of ILLC, an institution for juveniles with disabilities, we discover a place that is deeply different from and yet remarkably the same as the world outside. Nussbaum crafts a multifaceted portrait of a way of life hidden from most of us. In this isolated place on Chicago’s South Side, friendships are forged, trust is built, and love affairs begin. It’s in these alliances that the residents of this neglected community ultimately find the strength to bond together, resist their mistreatment, and finally fight back. And in the process, each is transformed.
“Nussbaum wonderfully sweetens a stark subject with doses of idiosyncratic humor and hard-earned pathos . . . [she] upholds the individuality and integrity of her characters, never stooping to saccharine cliches or Hollywood manipulation . . . [a] moving story.”—The Wall Street Journal
“This is a world as foreign to most as another planet. That Nussbaum is able to make it as real and as painful and joyful and alive as she does is a spectacular accomplishment . . . a joy for readers.”—Chicago Tribune
“Each character tells his or her own story in alternating chapters with lively, diverse, authentic voices . . . Nussbaum will have readers rooting for these brave, vulnerable teens to fight for better lives.”—School Library Journal
“Saucy, brutally funny, gritty, profane, poignant and real.”—The Kansas City Star
Discuss the title of the book, and the passage that it comes from (page 135). How does this title relate to various characters in the novel?
Discuss the relationship of Jimmie and Yessie. What does Jimmie derive from their relationship? What does Yessie get from Jimmie?
How do the disabled characters in this book compare with disabled characters in other books you’ve read?
Why do you think the author used a first-person narrator approach to telling the story?
Is it unusual to hear disabled characters tell their own stories? Why or why not? How might this impact the way you view disabled people in real life?
How does Joanne’s perspective on things change over the course of the novel, and why? Does she think differently about love? About her disability? About her ability to change things?
The book makes the argument that institutionalization is cruel and inhuman. Why does our society continue to rely so heavily on institutionalization as a resource for disabled children?
The book makes the argument that abuse and neglect are a natural outcome of the institutional structure. Do you think institutions such as the Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center are still reasonable living alternatives for disabled people? What are some other possible alternatives to institutionalization?
What role does paternalism play in the lives of disabled people? Can you give some examples?
The book talks a lot about jobs: job discrimination, jobs with low pay, overwork, relationships with coworkers, past jobs, and even possible future jobs. How important is your job in your life? Since more than 70 percent of disabled people experience chronic unemployment, how might this affect their adult lives?
If you could predict what some of the characters’ lives would be like ten years from now, what might they be doing and where would they be? Yessenia? Jimmie? Louie? Pierre? Mia?
There is frequent debate concerning whether white writers can authentically represent characters of other races in their work. Disabled people often complain that books written by nondisabled writers can’t authentically represent disabled characters. Considering this book and others, what’s your opinion on this issue?