Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973 Tales of the Madman Underground: An Historical Romance 1973 by John Barnes

This is a big book – figuratively and literally – and it’s hard to know where to start. It’s one of those books where you completely buy into the world of the story – it’s character driven, and you never doubt for a moment that this is how they would act or think. But because it feels so real, it’s that much more difficult to read. Each of the high schoolers is so painfully messed up, each family has so many issues. It never reads like a problem novel, partly because it’s so well crafted and partly because there are so many problems that it would be hard to sum up the issues in a simple sentence. It’s a book about teenage alcoholics. It’s a book about abuse, neglect, alcoholic parents, trying to get out of a small town, violence, therapy, the social worlds of high school. It’s not really about romance as much as the desire for, er, romance. And when I say romance…let’s just say that the book is frank about a lot of things. Substance abuse, sex, cussing, violence – it doesn’t try to pretty things up. It does have a surprisingly happy ending, which at first felt a bit pat and easy. But as I thought it over, I realized that the book just happens to take place over a few days when a corner is turned in Karl’s life. They start out as fairly ordinary days, the first of his senior year, but they turn out to be significant days. Mixed into all of this are the stories – the tales of the Madman Underground – that introduce the reader to the characters and their history. It’s a combination that works well, and while the book is not an easy read, it moves along quickly considering the length. This one will definitely be interesting to discuss at the Mock Printz workshop – I just hope that everyone else manages to work their way through the whole thing. View all my reviews >>