Completing the main part of its blog tour for Sage’s Blog Tours is Michael J. Bowler’s teen novel, Spinner. Welcome!
First of all, in many ways, this book has echoes of 1970s-1980s Stephen King novels, particularly portions of It and a few moments I can remember from books like Insomnia, The Talisman (co-written with Stroud) and the short story “The Body”. The protagonists here are a group of awkward, outcast boys fighting an unknown, manifest, ancient evil. The stakes are huge. And the only thing standing in the way of utter world destruction is a group of boys who attend Mark Twain High School’s “last stop” class. These are the boys that nobody wants to teach, for various reasons, and they were all put together in a classroom to keep them out of the way. Sometimes the diagnoses isn’t the reason they’re there, but these aren’t the ones you’d probably suggest as humanity’s last defense.
There are appearances by a helpful Catholic priest, some grave digging, a necklace that might be made of human flesh, ancient prophesies, strange dreams, blackouts and missing time, and a lot more blood and death than I initially expected–including teenagers being killed, slasher-movie style, and some exploding heads. Also: murderous cats. Big, freaky swarms of murderous cats.
Alex, our wheelchair-bound (due to spina-bifida) protagonist, has been through ten different foster homes and is currently living in a foster home with a terrible foster mother: the type of foster mother who forces children to beat other children, and then uses Alex’s power to heal them so nobody will ever know. Did I mention that Alex has amazing healing powers? If a person tells Alex about their pain, he can take it in, absorb it into himself, experience these same pains, and then dissipate them. Miraculous, really. For him, it has been a curse most of his life. But he still uses it for good when he finds the opportunity.
One of the unique aspects about this book is that Bowler shows, in his writing, a keen ear for the teenage voice. More specifically, there is an understanding of and respect for the voices of those who have been deemed “other” on account of disabilities, skin color, or sexual orientation. I’ve been a teacher (English as well as English intervention classes for students more than 2 grade-levels behind their peers) and I recognize shadows of each of these characters from my classroom.
Spinner gives some good lessons about extended family, acceptance of many different types of “different,” and keeps the characters center stage. We get to follow heroes with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and spina bifida. Though Alex has not been a member of a true family since his infancy, he finds acceptance with the other students in his class–Roy, Java and Israel. Bowler focuses on the boys’ abilities rather than disabilities, which makes for a compelling read.
If you loved the horror/thriller books of King and Dean Koontz from the 70s and 80s, this throwback will be right up your alley. Just, you know, don’t head up that alley without a buddy. The buddy system works, people.
About the Author
Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of eight novels––A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards), Running Through A Dark Place, There Is No Fear, And The Children Shall Lead, Once Upon A Time In America, and Spinner.
He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master’s in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.
He acted as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II.”
He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.
He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles.
He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed him and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.
He is currently working on a sequel to Spinner. His goal as a YA author is for teens to experience empowerment and hope; to see themselves in his diverse characters; to read about kids who face real-life challenges; and to see how kids like them can remain decent people in an indecent world.
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