|Photo description: Reproduction of book cover showing two hands, one gold coloured with the text 'good kings' over the other red coloured with the text 'bad kings'.|
I was wary, for two reasons. First, authors, in my experience, seldom get the voice right in books written with disabled characters, much in the same way that non-disabled actors often get mannerisms but seldom get 'voice' when playing someone with a disability. I was also concerned because the cover told me that the book had won an award for 'socially engaged fiction.' Socially engaged fiction, oh my. It's a book that's supposed to be good for me. Duty done, bought. Reading it, though, that's another story.
And as it turns out, it is another story, indeed.
Joe and I were heading out to Boston for a few days work and I was almost finished the book I'd been reading. Joe asked what other book I wanted and I told him to grab the top book on the pile stuffed at the far end of my bedside table's bottom shelf. He grabbed, Good Kings Bad Kings. When I pulled it out of my wheelchair bag and saw what had been brought, I almost protested.
Then. I started to read. The author of the book is ambitious. She sets the story in a nursing home full of kids, with a variety of different disabilities, who are all under the age of 21. That is one wild set of idiosyncratic voices coming from entirely different ways of experiencing the world. The book is set up in chapters, each from the point of view, and in the voice of, a different character. One of the characters presented early on in the book shocked me.
I knew her.
I knew her intimately.
She expressed thoughts and ideas about her experience with disabilities using words that I have used. My experience of disability has, at points, mirrored hers. I couldn't help it. I flipped to the back of the book to read about the author. I never do that. I don't read forwards and I don't read 'about the author' ... so, I'm allowed my own idiosyncratic approach to reading a book.
Meet Susan Nussbaum:
|Picture description: Author Susan Nussbaum seated in a power wheelchair.,|
My only quibble is that I found that the voices of those with intellectual disabilities were, from my years of experience in working with people who experience that disability, sometimes forced and rang a little false. Not always. But enough to cause me notice.
Driving by any nursing home, one might see a sedate looking place, and one might imagine it full of compassionate staff giving wonderful care to grateful recipients. You will never think that again after reading this book. Not only did Ms Nussbaum get the voices right, she also captured the hierarchy of care and the abuse of power, in a myriad of ways, that go on under the guise of care providing. Those sections of the book were letter perfect, and, of course, the hardest to read.
There is also triumph in this book. But not the typical triumph you read about when books are peopled with those who have disability. Mount Everest isn't scaled once. The triumph here isn't over disability, its over ....
Nope. Not gonna tell you. For that, read the book.
Are you a disabled reader? Got some disabled reader friends? Got some non-disabled friends who are into books with fully fleshed out characters? If so, this might be the perfect choice for a gift for yourself or for someone else.
It was for me, simply because, about midway through the book, I felt completely gifted this experience. I may have bought the book. But, really, Susan Nussbaum gave it to me. Like, I'm guessing, she wants to give it to you.