Karl Shoemaker has a plan: Operation Be Normal. It starts with avoiding his best friend, and ends with getting through the semester without getting put in therapy. Karl has been in mandatory group therapy (called the madman underground) with the same kids since forever, and he is sick of it: the same stories, the same problems, year after year. The problem is that with five jobs, an erratic, alcoholic mother, more pet cats than he can count, and a reputation for being a “psycho,” it’s going to be difficult for Karl to have a normal year. When he is offered what amounts to a "get out of jail free" card for therapy, his fellow madmen think he's turned on them. After everything they have shared, it is considered to be a first rate betrayal, and one even Karl is not sure he should commit.
Tales of the Madman Underground is one of the best books I’ve read recently. Karl is a great character: funny, sweet, and full of rage. This is a story about friendship and family, and the relationships that form when adults can’t be trusted. Karl and his friends have very difficult lives—it’s not unusual for them to find themselves sleeping in cars or sneaking into basements because their homes are not safe. Sometimes the madmen make hard choices or bad choices, but they are there for each other. They stand up and help each other make the best of what are sometimes horrible life situations. That is the root of Karl’s dilemma: does grabbing hold of normalcy mean abandoning his friends and his only support system?