SPINNER by Michael J. Bowler
Young Dudes Publishing, August 2015 ~ 4½ Stars
Blurb: 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…
Review: From his wheelchair, fifteen-year-old Alex Maracles struggles with the complications of spinal bifida every day. It’s the same wheelchair that gives him the nickname of “spinner.” Somehow, he manages to take care of everything he needs to do, showering, dressing and getting himself off to school each morning. As a foster child, he doesn’t have any support at home. His foster mother incites competition, emotionally and verbally abusing the boys who live with her. She deprives them of what could be considered basic human needs. She even locks up the food and literally chains up the refrigerator. Where is the social worker who should be protecting Alex and the other boys?
In addition to the physical deprivations, Alex must contend with his foster mother attempting to document his paranormal abilities and use them for profit – hers, that is. He can “heal” injuries and unfortunately his youngest foster brother is often the victim who receives most of Alex’s treatments. Not only is Alex a healer, he also has precognitive dreams filled with gloom, despair and even murder. One of the first that he views shows the death of his beloved teacher, someone who has never made him feel less for being in a Special Education classroom, or for being unable to read very well. His friends in the class can’t help him since they suffer from the same functional illiteracy.
Like the rest of his friends, Alex is a complex, well-drawn character. The reader will easily recognize them as individuals who could be met on the street or in any school because they always remain consistent. While they label themselves as “losers”, in fact they are more truly “winners.” The authenticity of the background embellishes the story and so does the dialogue which may prove too authentic for some readers. Yes, there is swearing but it feels natural for these characters, not extraneous. The treatment of Special Education students in the public education system is all too often sadly similar to that depicted by Mr. Bowler, although not all substitute teachers are evil.
The major drawback in this story is the fact that the women and girls are so clichéd. We rarely see one with empathy and they die horribly. It becomes difficult to believe that females are either angels, or demons, or the “hoes” that the boys call them. Hmm, generally “hoes” are garden implements and prostitutes, or women who act like them are called, “ho’s” in dialect. This story has a well-developed setting, a diverse cast of male characters, good dialogue and pacing but the women characters need as much attention to detail as those that the male ensemble receives.
REVIEW PROVIDED BY SHANNON KENNEDY FOR HER COLUMN SHANNON’S SPACE IN THE FEB/MAR 2016 EDITION OF THE BOOK BREEZE.