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A modern ‘Breakfast Club’

A profound book enjoyable for teens and adults

July 28, 2009
By Amy Mendenhall
The year is 1973. Karl Shoemaker is a troubled teenager. His father used to be an important man in town, the mayor that mostly everyone liked, until his struggle with alcoholism and subsequent death from cancer. Karl’s mother has been untethered ever since, flitting from one bad boyfriend to the other, drinking away her paycheck.

In order to provide for his own basic needs, Karl works four jobs and tries to hide his earnings from his mom, who still finds some of them to drink away. Karl takes care of her and her multiple cats and tries to smother down the seething rage he feels for his circumstances.

Karl also tries to take care of his friends — a group of teens from all walks of life. Nicknamed “The Madman Underground,” these students are excused from classes every other week to attend therapy due to their circumstances.

There’s Cheryl, the pretty cheerleader whose step-grandfather can’t keep his hands off her or her sister. Danny is the farmboy whose drunk father hates him. Darla is the rich, artsy girl who carries a stuffed rabbit she talks to and who has many boyfriends as well as rich parents who abandoned her to go traveling. She also has a frightening streak that leads to the removal of her brother from the home. There’s also Paul, the artistic and talented one, whose sexuality is called into question by not only the other students but also his abusive father. Bonny is the bohemian who used to date Karl and also has to work multiple jobs to take care of her siblings while her absent parents are constantly away. And, there’s Squid, too, the football player whose father went to jail and whose mother committed suicide and now has to take care of his siblings because his father won’t. And finally the new girl, Marti, the child of a genius who doesn’t understand her and a drunk mother who is Karl’s mom’s new best friend.

This group, reminscent of “The Breakfast Club” but knowing all of their problems up front, sticks together in the face of bullying teens and teachers alike. They know their home situations, know there’s nothing anyone can do about it, and know not to narc about it and make it worse.

But Karl would like one year of just being “normal.” He intends to try this year, but finds he just can’t turn his back on his friends when they need him.

The look into the life of these teens is both troubling and touching, as Karl and his friends look out for each other even in the face of terrible circumstances. And the overall message of the importance and acceptance of your friends, no matter who they are or what age they are is a fantastic one. This book will get all of its readers thinking.

This is a great book for older teens and adults, as it has some adult language and situations.

Contact Amy at amendenhall@graffitiwv.com

Fact Box

“Tales of the Madman Underground” is published by Viking, a division of Penguin. It is $18.99 and 532 pages long.

 
 

 

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