Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Book Review: 'Spinner' by Michael J. Bowler

California author Michael J. Bowler majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University and earned his master's degree 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 has 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. His has been highly honored in many categories. His nine books are written for the Young Adult audience – his goal 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. And thus SPINNER rises as a winning novel.

First time readers of Michael’s books will find the core of this gifted author’s talent and spirit in his sensitive author’s note at the opening of the book: ‘Whether labeled general education or special education, all students have unique gifts and talents and personalities and, despite so-called disabilities, can contribute positively to this world. I’ve lived with a disability my entire life – hearing impairment – and I met no one close to my age with hearing loss until after graduate school. My disability was a drawback with teachers who talked a lot or didn’t articulate clearly, but it didn’t stop me from learning. It made me a visual and tactile learner. It allowed me to see more of the world around me because I couldn’t “hear” the world with the same precision as my peers. It did make playing on sports teams a frustrating comedy of errors for all the mistakes I made from mishearing the coach or other players on the field. It did make discerning song lyrics difficult, especially through the old radio speakers we had in those days, and isolated me from most of my peers who could quote songs from memory. But the “disability” never defined me. Later, as a high school teacher who worked with kids like the characters in this book, I strove to emphasize their abilities, not their disabilities, and they accepted my own disability without question. We spend way too much time in this country focusing on what we perceive to be the weaknesses of others. As the kids in Spinner clearly prove, our strengths always outweigh our weaknesses. If more adults would focus on the strengths of kids, especially kids with disabilities, instead of trying to “fix” the disabilities or make all kids conform to a normative standard of learning, then every child would have a real chance to soar. For every “disability,” there is an equal or more powerful “ability.” Every kid I ever taught showed me this universal truth.’

The story of this unique novel is well summarized in the synopsis: ‘Fifteen-year-old Alex is a “spinner.” His friends are “dummies.” Two clandestine groups of humans want his power. And an ancient evil is stalking him. If people weren’t being murdered, Alex might laugh at how his life turned into a horror movie overnight. In a wheelchair since birth, his freakish ability has gotten him kicked out of ten foster homes since the age of four. Now saddled with a sadistic housemother who uses his spinning to heal the kids she physically abuses, Alex and his misfit group of learning disabled classmates are the only ones who can solve the mystery of his birth before more people meet a gruesome end. They need to find out who murdered their beloved teacher, and why the hot young substitute acts like she’s flirting with them. Then there’s the mysterious medallion that seems to have unleashed something malevolent, and an ancient prophecy suggesting Alex has the power to destroy humanity. The boys break into homes, dig up graves, elude kidnappers, fight for their lives against feral cats, and ultimately confront an evil as old as humanity. Friendships are tested, secrets uncovered, love spoken, and destiny revealed. The kid who’s always been a loner will finally learn the value of friends, family, and loyalty. If he survives…’

Rarely has an author dealt with ‘disabilities’ in such a sensitive manner and still produce a story so powerful as a stand-alone novel as this. Brilliant in every aspect. Grady Harp, May 16

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.