Susan Nussbaum – Good Kings, Bad Kings

20140414-210915.jpgWow, I was seriously impressed by this book. First of all, I should say that I won the book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program, hence why my copy says ‘Advance proof copy, not for sale’. Although I think it’s been out for a few weeks now since I couldn’t start reading it as soon as it arrived.

This is the debut novel by Susan Nussbaum, but you would never tell from reading it. Expertly written to give each character a unique voice and leaving a profound impression on you by the time you reach the heart-rending conclusion, Nussbaum has crafted a masterpiece. No wonder she was winning awards before the book was even published!

The subject matter is not the easiest to read. Set in an institution for young people with disabilities, the book is narrated by a cast of characters including residents in the home, employees of the home and an employee of the outside company contracted to run the home.

The narrative of each character leads you to a strong emotional connection with each one in turn, making all of the horrible things that happen seem even more personal. You see, although this institution is contracted out to a seemingly professional company, corners are being cut to save money and it seems like most of the staff couldn’t care less about these brilliant individuals, casting them off as useless just because they have a disability, be it mental or physical.

But not all the employees are quite as heartless, as we hear from some of the employees who actually care about these young people and have the drive to do something to help them. Heartbreakingly, it seems to be too late for some of the poor residents, leading me to be sat at my desk at work trying as hard as I can to hold back the tears (and most definitely failing).

The strength shown by certain residents within the facility was amazing, after seeing everything that happened it would probably be easy to just give up and accept that this is your lot in life, but having the guts to fight against the system made these characters stronger than any characters in other books I have read recently.

I only had two problems with the book. Firstly, since we’re seeing life in the home from inside the home – the residents and the employees, and being shown just how bad the outside company is, it would have been nice if one of the characters had been someone at the outside company with responsibility for making the decisions. We get an insight into how they think when we see their crisis meeting, but still, it would have been nice to get deeper.

Secondly, the last chapter with Yessenia. I know it was supposed to round off the story nicely and show that Yessenia has been able to move on on her own and show some independence, but I thought it could have been done in a different way. I’m not sure exactly how though, and I guess that’s why I’m not an author.

I’ll be keeping an eager eye out for more books by Susan Nussbaum, she has the kind of voice I would love to read again and again.


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