This seems like a novel who's audience is unclear. I enjoyed it but can't really think to whom I might recommend it. People might think its about kids with mental illness or about alcoholic kids and parents, but ultimately its about allies, the closest of friends. Its really a wonderful tale of friendship. All the characters, teens and adults are flawed as is true in real life.
MADMAN underground is the title a group of teens gave to themselves years earlier. They are all part of a therapy group at school. They are all from homes that are dysfunctional in their own often horrific ways. Everyone at schools knows everything (or think they do) about them. This is small town USA 1973. The teens are very close. They try to protect each other from bad stuff at home and at school. They really discover how close during the months of this story when two of the members try to have a normal, non-therapy year.
Karl is the protagonist/main character. He is scary as people believe he tortures small animals. Before he died his father was well respected in town. Those who knew him try to look out for Karl the way they know how. Karl has numerous odd jobs all over town and several stashes which unfortunately his alcoholic free spirited mother sometimes finds and uses to get drunk, etc. Enter new girl in town, Marti, new member of the underground because her parents believe she needs to be. They periodically lock her out of the house at night as punishment. Other members are Paul, who may be gay and is subjected to beatings by members of the sports teams. Not all however, since Squid and Danny, also MADMEN play sports. Then there is Cheryl and Darla. Marti is dating Paul who is having issues with his best friend Karl. Darla and Karl go to a pond that doubles as a place for dating teens to park and he almost loses his virginity. Karl takes Marti in to a hotel room one night when both have been locked out and Marti's mother accuses him of giving her STD and getting her pregnant. Paul is rescued by the MADMEN before he gets beaten one more time. More stuff happens and is sorted out in quite hopeful ways. There is a side thread, popular Staci is witness to many of the MADMEN troubles and proves to be one of few that doesn't spread rumor or harass the group. This is one of several books I've read recently in which a popular girl/cheerleader is shown to be more human and less snobbish than one might believe a popular teen to be. JDW 2/10