Yessenia Lopez has been through Juvie and now finds herself at ILLC – Illinois Learning and Life Skills Center. Disabled, orphaned and wheelchair-bound, she is full of anger and hostility. Soon she meets other disabled youth – Cheri, who becomes her friend, and Teddy and Mia – a troubled couple. Joanne – also disabled and the secretary at ILLC, and Jimmie – one of the house parents, also become friends.
But this isn’t just Yessenia’s story. Good Kings Bad Kings is told from all of these perspectives and more, as the corruption at ILLC is revealed. As they get to know each other and learn of the horrors perpetrated at the institute, they recognize that change is needed, and become determined to force it.
Good Kings Bad Kings is a powerful commentary on how society views the disabled, and does little or nothing to care for them. Through these characters’ eyes, their story is told with brutal honesty. For the YA reader, caution may be needed due to language and sexual situations. This is not your casual beach read. Instead, you may find a lingering disturbed feeling and an urge to check up on your institutionalized friends and relatives. 2012 winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.
Reviewer: Alice Berger