“My tía Nene said three is the magic number and when three things happen to you that are so, so bad and you feel like the whole wide world is just throwing up on your new shoes, don’t worry. Your bad luck is about to change. And, I am sitting inside a room that smells like a urinal toilet at a place called the Illinois Learning something something. It’s only my second day here and would you believe these people already got me in the punishing room? So this is three.”
Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum
That introduction begins Yessenia’s account of how she ended up at a nursing home for juveniles. She obviously doesn’t want to be there and what is heartbreaking is to see that she doesn’t really understand how she got there.
Each chapter is the voice of another teen living in this for-profit nursing home for teens with mental and physical disabilities. And, as a contrast we also get the stories from the viewpoint of the nursing home staff, whether they are management or care staff.
There is a lot of sadness in this story because you wonder how can people be so cruel or how can agencies only care for a buck and not the welfare of those who need the most help but there are some moments of joy. There are friendships and love stories that sustain the children and even the care staff.
What is so incredibly heartbreaking is to see how sometimes people are really trying their best and have good intentions but they are over-worked and underpaid and that can only lead to mistakes with grave consequences. Is there a glimmer of hope? Well, I think by raising awareness there is hope because we need people who can advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves.
Having worked in a nursing home myself in the administrative side, I can tell you this felt very real. I didn’t work with youth but I saw the ugly side like illness and neglect all mixed in with simple joys. Working in healthcare is tough. I really loved this book and it was one of my favorites last year. It can be a hard read and the alternating narrators may take some time to get used to but I highly recommend this one and hope you’ll add it to your list.
Source: Advance review copy