A novel set in a life skills center
“Good Kings, Bad Kings” by Susan Nussbaum, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 336 pages, $23.95. The Illinois Learning & Life Skills Center is for 80 teens with physical and mental disabilities. Some have both. It is told from different points of view. Yessenia was raised by her aunt who has died. Joanne Madsen, the data entry clerk, is a quadriplegic. Ricky Hernandez is an aide. They forge bonds to fight against mistreatment as one person is being molested and another dies of neglect. While the idea behind the novel is good, the villains are over the top. The manuscript won the 2012 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction and the publishing contract. *** “All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay, from Lincoln to Roosevelt” by John Taliaferro, Simon & Schuster, 688 pages, $35. John Hay at 22 was a personal secretary to President Abraham Lincoln. He later became a diplomat, a newspaperman and a poet. But he always enjoyed politics and served as secretary of state under President Theodore Roosevelt. He is a historical figure who has been hiding in plain sight — this is the first biography written of John Hay since 1934. Hay was a witness to many historical events. Taliaferro also uncovered Hay’s secret romance with Lizzie Cameron, a niece of William Tecumseh Sherman, who was married to Pennsylvania Sen. Donald Cameron. This is a well-researched and readable biography. People who enjoy reading American history will like this book.