Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spinning Out

Stahler, David. Spinning Out. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2011. Print.
[Book cover credit:]

Gilliam High's annual musical is kind of a big deal. The kind that's looked forward to by the whole town. That's why Frenchy thinks Stewart has got to be joking when he suggests they audition. The audition will be marginally fun, wholly embarrassing, and the biggest jewel in their pranking crown. Or so Frenchy thinks. It turns out, flubbing the audition for laughs is not part of Stewart's plan. That's how Frenchy and Stewart snag the leads in "Man of La Mancha," as Sancho and Don Quixote respectively. For Frenchy, it's all a little surreal. When Stewart starts immersing himself in the role just a little too much, things really start to get weird.

Frenchy's had a hell of a year, and now he just wants to coast through his senior year. But Stewart wants to get involved and, as his best friend, Frenchy backs him up. Their relationship, mirrored in the master-servant/leader-follower relationship of Sancho and the Don, is the driving force of this book. And it's a serious and challenging relationship. Still, Spinning Out is mostly hilarious. It's not laugh-out-loud funny; it's more subtle than that. If this book were literary fiction instead of YA, it would be called "intelligent humor." The banter between Frenchy and Stewart is always snarky, and when you throw Ralph, their pot dealer/Frenchy's mom's boyfriend, into the mix, it's gets a little out of control. In a good way. That's why, when Stewart starts to act a, Frenchy doesn't think too much of it.

Stewart falls further and further into the role of Don Quixote; it's great for the play, but hard on Frenchy. It's also hard on his budding relationship with stage manager Kaela (who is awesome-sauce). So he steps away, just a little bit. Finally able to claim a little bit of his own limelight in the role of Sancho, Frenchy separates himself just the tiniest bit from Stewart. They're still best friends (and just like Norah, Frenchy is a Great Friend), they're just no longer practically surgically attached.

During all of this changing and growing and relationship stuff, there is still a show to put on! Long rehearsals, music practices, hot chicks with power tools building sets, it's all there. Theater geeks and show choir enthusiasts (and fans of books like My Invented Life) will love this aspect. All readers will be treated to a meaty story in the meantime.

Spinning Out will be available for purchase May 25th!

Supers, Super Spoiler only for people who want to know the "issue," or what's really going on, or the ending: (highlight to read)
Stewart has undiagnosed schizophrenia. During his descent into the disease, he clings to Don Quixote, convinced that the Don is the real him. The fact that Stewart is obsessed with/plagued by the wind turbines on the edge of town helps push him over the edge. Now, I'm not an expert in mental illness, but I thought the schizophrenia was handled very well. Though the school bullies call Stewart crazy, Frenchy never does. The whole thing is handled with respect. It's also really scary, and Stahler doesn't shy away from that fear, Stewart's or Frenchy's. I also thought that the reactions of the adults in Stewart's life were, sadly, probably pretty realistic. Stahler doesn't shy away from the consequences of those reactions either. Still, at no point did this feel like an "issue book." It was not preachy and there was no info dump. All the necessary information was worked seamlessly into the story. This is a great book for readers interested in mental illness in general and schizophrenia in particular.

Book source: ARC provided by the publisher through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

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David said...

Hi, Lawral

Wow. Thanks so much for the great review. I really appreciate the fact that you picked up on so many different aspects of what I was trying to accomplish here. The novel has some pretty heavy themes, so I'm especially grateful for your comments about the story's humor--something that is easy to overlook--and about the closeness of Frenchy and Stewart's relationship. Yes, it is possible for two teenage boys to have a platonic relationship that is its own kind of love.

I also dig the spoiler section--what a clever way to review that aspect of the novel. I did a lot of research in that particular area, and one of the challenges was trying to convey Stewart's deterioration in a believable way. So it's gratifying to hear that it worked for at least one reader.

Anyway, thanks again for your kind, funny, and perceptive review!

David Stahler Jr.

Lawral the Librarian said...

Hi David - Thanks for stopping by! Your research definitely shows. I thought that aspect of the novel was very well-done, and it realistically showed the way that kind of thing can suck in everyone around the person.

Thanks for giving us these great characters!

Anachronist said...

A great review and I like stories with a subtle sense of humour.

Lawral the Librarian said...

anachronist - Then this is definitely the book for you! It is especially funny, I think, if you're familiar with the story of Don Q, though you certainly don't have to be to appreciate Spinning Out.