Author: David Stahler Jr.
Genre: Contemporary YA
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication date: May 25 2011
Hardcover: 288 pages
High school senior Frenchy has little ambition beyond hanging out at the smoking rock until his best friend, the ever-witty and conniving Stewart, gets him to try out for Man of la Mancha. To everyone’s surprise, the guys are a hit. But when Stewart’s antics begin to grow more obsessive he wears his costume 24/7, freaks out about little details, and displays an incessant hatred of the high-tech windmills outside of town Frenchy worries that there’s something deeper going on. Is Stewart spiraling into madness, just like Don Quixote? And can Frenchy battle through his own demons in time to save his friend from self-destruction before it’s too late?
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Review copy from the publisher
Why did I read this book: We are on this publisher’s emailing list. When the email came offering this for review, I jumped at the opportunity: I love stories about theatre and I love Don Quixote!
Frenchy and his best pal Stewart are getting through high school by doing their usual combination of smoking pot and plotting pranks. Both are good students with good grades and whereas Frenchy prefers to just go through the motions without making any extra effort, Stewart has a more academic-inclined mind and a bright Ivy League future ahead of him. Another marked difference between this duo of unlikely friends is their backgrounds: Stewart comes from an affluent family with hippie inclinations and Frenchy from a poorer family, his mother a member of the local Police Force, his father a former soldier, who returned from Iraq with post traumatic stress disorder and ended up committing suicide.
When the drama department opens the auditions for the upcoming production of the musical The Man of La Mancha, Stewart convinces Frenchy to audition with him and against all odds they get the two main roles: stocky, short Frenchy is to play Pancho and tall and thin Stewart gets the lead role of Don Quixote. The two boys are in fact rather talented and soon become deeply involved with the production. For Frenchy it proves to be a welcome respite to get his mind off the recent tragedy that hit his family but for Stewart, the play becomes something more – it becomes his reality. Soon Frenchy realises that there might be something really wrong with Stewart but how can a simple high school boy decide what to do and how to help?
This, my friends, is a beautiful book. It has many things to recommend it, starting with how genuine it reads. Not only with regards to the characters’ voices (who do sound like teenagers and it came as no surprise to learn that the author is a high school teacher) but because it all comes across as realistic and honest and painful. There is Frenchy and his mom trying to get through his father’s suicide, and how they both feel guilty for not getting the signs that something was wrong and acting in time to prevent it from happening. But there is also the fact that live goes on and his mom starts dating again and Ralph is a genuinely nice guy who is also the local loser and the person who sells pot to Frenchy and Stewart. This is not a clean, perfectly bland book – it deals with aspects of life that are messy, it allows people to make mistakes and where shitty things happen to good people for no reason.
It is not a heavy-handed book though and even as it has its share of complicated issues and sadness, it is also full of wonderful things like singing and dancing and the passion for theatre as well as making out and falling in love. Plus, a school counsellor who helps Frenchy and actually seems to know what he is talking about (and is not there as a villain – seriously, I think I read three books recently where the school psychologist turned out to be the villain of the piece) and a non-emo goth-girl who is assertive and cool and works as the stage manager of the play and likes to hang out with Frenchy.But the pièce de résistance is indeed the relationship between Frenchy and Stewart and its ups and downs.
Spinning Out is the best type of contemporary YA: the one that is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming. Totally recommended.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: The last page of the book is pitch-perfect. Seriously. I can’t, however, quote the whole thing because it is spoilery but here is a beautiful line:
The best people in life make the world a bigger place, then help you grow to fit it.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Burn Bright by Marianne de Pierres
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