Good Kings Bad Kings - Susan Nussbaum It must feel heady to receive an award for your first novel almost a year before it's published. Susan Nussbaum received the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction in June of 2012. The prize promotes “fiction that addresses issues of social justice and the impact of culture and politics on human relationships.” Good Kings Bad Kings is a perfect fit for the award.In the voices of residents and employees, Nussbaum presents life in a state-run nursing home for juveniles with disabilities. A novel about institutionalized kids may sound like it's going to be terribly depressing, but it's not. I'm always reading several books at one time, and this was always the one I wanted to come back to when I had a few minutes to read. The abuse and death and mismanagement is balanced by the sass and spirit and hope and indignation of the kids and their caregivers. This is a strongly character-based novel, employing the alternating voices of seven people. Three are disabled youngsters, three are employees of the nursing home, and one is a recruiter trying to keep the place full. Seven characters?! I can hear you whining already. How will I ever keep them all straight? And well you might ask. It is difficult at first, and it's one of the minor weaknesses of the novel. It does take some time to sort them out and remember what they've told you each time you encounter another of their chapters. If it's a big concern for you, make a few notes as you begin reading. It won't be long, though, before their lives and personalities become so real and distinct that your confusion will vanish.Susan Nussbaum was hit by a car in the 1970s, and went from being able-bodied to wheelchair-dependent. Her ability to see handicaps from both sides brings realism and urgency to the novel. From Yessie and Teddy and Mia and their friends, we learn that disabled kids are neither angelic nor pathetic. They're just like other kids in so many ways – potty-mouthed, mischievous, defiant, scared, and often very funny. They want fun, they want respect, they want sex, they want long-term connections with people who love them, and they want as much independence as possible.