Book Review: Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum

Based on a review that originally ran in the Tuesday, June 11th issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you don't already subscribe, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

Susan Nussbaum's debut novel and 2012 winner of Barbara Kingsolver's Pen/Bellwether Prize for fiction, Good Kings Bad Kings invites readers into the dysfunctional world of ILLC, an institution for juveniles with disabilities. The residents of ILLC, tucked away in an isolated corner of Chicago's South Side, are alone in the world or come from families that cannot afford to give them the care and attention their disabilities demand. There is Yessenia, an aggressive but also witty teen with no one to care for her after her aunt's death. There's Mia, who has lived at the center since she was 11 after being removed from an abusive family. And Teddy, who dresses in a suit every day and is madly in love with Mia; his father visits regularly but cannot afford to bring Teddy home. 

Nussbaum brings these and other characters to life, moving from one perspective to the next flawlessly, building a voice for each character that is so authentic it is easy to forget they are fictional. Ultimately, their voices come together to tell a heartbreaking story of cruelty and hardship, but also a hopeful tale of resilience, love and friendship. Good Kings Bad Kings will make you stop and reconsider--or perhaps consider for the first time--what it means to be disabled and why we fear those who are different from us.


Good Kings Bad Kings | Susan Nussbaum | Algonquin | May 2013 | Hardcover | Buy from an independent near you


  1. Oh gosh, I've been wanting to read this one so bad. It's good to hear that it lives up to what I thought it might be, since books like this can sometimes make the characters into stereotypes or caricatures and head in the wrong direction.

    1. Her characters feel so real that it is hard not to get sucked in!

  2. Onto the wishlist it goes Kerry! Thanks for the great review :)


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