Spinner by Michael J. Bowler
Looks can be deceiving: fifteen-year-old Alex is cherubic, bound to a wheel chair by spina bifida, and his only friends constitute the motley gaggle of ostensible “losers” in his high school classroom for boys with learning disabilities. But in Michael J. Bowler’s Spinner, Alex harbors surprising secrets and abilities: he is gifted with the power to “spin” people, which enables him to absorb the bodily and mental hurt of others. When an evil presence rears its head and a series of grisly murders rocks his Californian hometown, it becomes increasingly clear that Alex is somehow tied to – if not perpetrating – the sordid crimes, and it is up to him and his unlikely pals to get to the bottom of it all before it’s too late.
A true young adult horror novel at first glance, Spinner is suitably creepy and gruesome, punctuated by some truly scary and pulse-pounding moments. Bowler demonstrates that he has a genuine talent for writing, and his passages are clean and clear. Well structured, Spinner unfolds easily, like the script to some lost teen horror film classic. Our illiterate, inner-city heroes are not the clean kids in tidy situations typical to youth fiction, and while some might object that the violence and carnage is graphic, that the language is coarse, that there are instances of teen drinking and teen sexuality, these qualities add a certain authenticity and cool edge to the novel. Spinner’s sincere heart is perhaps its greatest asset: beneath his book’s grim façade, Bowler offers some astute observations about teen life – capturing the doubt and insecurity of adolescence – and addresses important themes for maturing young adults, channeled through realistic character dynamics and comradery. Taking central place at Spinner’s core are complex explorations of the values of teamwork, unity in spite of differences, self-confidence, and – above all – the special power of each individual. While embracing descriptions of the practical aspects of disabilities and thus refusing to romanticize its characters and their predicaments, Spinner importantly shows us that having a disability is not just normal and natural, but can also be an empowering and special part of who a person is. Spinner is not quite a novel geared for everyone, but those that it is intended for are apt to find themselves spoken to directly, meaningfully, and powerfully. For the rest of us, Spinner remains brimming with magic and fun; opening the book is an invitation into a rich and absorbing journey that is hard to refuse.
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