Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes (2009)

Marti was going to be a Madman, all right. I wondered what happened at home: did they hit her? Nobody sober after noon? Fights? A head of coke on the coffee table? Bedroom visits from her mother’s creepy boyfriend? Wall-to-wall crosses and nonstop prayers? All of those were certainly possible, based on the other Madmen.

I didn’t ask. I’d know soon enough. One problem with an underground, you always know too much about what’s buried (p 134).

Tales of the Madman UndergroundKyle has a plan and it’s call Operation Be Fucking Normal. After Kyle’s father died during his eighth grade year, his mother went crazy: drinking, smoking and slutting it up. Kyle has played the parent, working several jobs to pay the bills, cleaning the house, and taking care of his alcoholic wanna-be hippie mother. Under all that stress, he was bound to crack. Now the kids call him Psycho Shoemaker.

He then received his ticket to group therapy at school with all the other messed up kids. The group became known as the Madmen Underground. Kyle and his best friend, Paul are long time members. And the madmen stick together.

This book follows 6 days in Kyle’s life in September 1973. It is a Printz Honor Award winner and deservedly so. Exceptional writing. Pitch perfect. Once I got into this book, I couldn’t put it down. Sure, there’s a lot of crazy going on, your heart will break, your spirits will lift and you’ll want more. John Barnes is a man I’d like to meet. He transported me to another time and a different life and I was so invested!


I did meet John Barnes at ALA. He signed a copy of his book for me on the event floor and spoke at the Printz Award Reception. I think he was a little overwhelmed by it all but I was so delighted to hear he felt rejuvenated by the award. He was coming out of a 10 year slump, of sorts, but plans to write more! I haven’t read any of his adult fiction, but I intend to pick up Directive 51, his new adult sci-fi book.


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