Good Kings, Bad Kings

This is the perfect title of Susan Nussbaum’s book about a state-run facility for disabled youth. Good Kings Bad Kings is a poignant story told from several view points of the kids and adults that are affiliated with the facility. As I write this from snowy New England, I immediately thought of her book full of kids who need a wheelchair to be mobile. On the campus where I work and live there is moderate, but mostly poor snow removal. Because of this there was a snow day and all classes were cancelled. However, those students who needed to eat breakfast at the dining hall this morning were out of luck. At 4PM the walkways are sort of better, and wheelchairs can probably navigate the paths that have been left by the snow plows.

Reading diversely is something that I’ve seen a lot around the internet book community. Diversity in general is something that is championed in my field, and I fall right on board with the ideas of these two communities. The increase in books, specifically for young adults, regarding mental illness and disease have been welcome and praised for the last several years. Authors, actors, and other celebrities have been actively working to reduce the stigma of mental illness, especially those as common as depression and anxiety.

Although I often engaged in conversations about mental illness, race, religion, sexual orientation, and gender fluidity, ableism still seems to be a term that stumps many. Hell, google chrome doesn’t even recognize it as a word! Nussbaum was paralyzed in her twenties, confined to a wheelchair for almost 40 years now. A notable playwright and activist in Chicago’s disability rights movement, Nussbaum had a lot of personal experience to pull from while crafting the world of Good Kings Bad Kings.

The first thing you’ll notice about the book is that each character has their own voice. I mean that quite literally. Some of the characters don’t speak English fluently. They all possess a different level of mastery regarding the English language. Some of them sound formal, while others use “street” language. If you’re someone who has a hard time understanding non-standard English, then you’ll have a hard time with this book. I think that you should get over that and give it a try anyway. Besides focuses on the rights of the disabled and the stories of children confined to a wheelchair, Nussbaum explores how intersectionality is very relevant and important.

Intersectionality, for those of you who do not know, focuses on the intersections of our identity. For example – I am a woman, but I am also Black, American, heterosexual, cis-gendered, and college-educated. All of these factors play into how I present myself to the world, even if I am most concerned about being a woman. Nussbaum creates characters who are disabled, but also have extremely varied socioeconomic backgrounds, sexual orientations, ethnicities, and education levels. I believe that this focus on those intersections, helps Nussbaum create real, dynamic characters that make the story more enjoyable.

Good Kings Bad Kings is a fairly quick read at 320 pages. The vignettes of each character, composed as chapters, are often funny and insightful. There’s a mini-love story and a cause that the students champion as they learn that they are worthy and do have a voice. I think that this book sheds a lot of light on things we often forget – underfunded state facilities, the move to privatize state systems, activism, and life with a disability. If you’re looking to diversify your reading, this is a pretty book to start.

Until Next Time World…


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