Monday, November 3, 2014

REVIEW: "And the Children Shall Lead" by Michael J. Bowler (Tribute Books)

The campaign to save California’s children was only the beginning. Now King Arthur and his Round Table of teenaged knights set their sights on fixing something even bigger – the entire country. How? By targeting America’s most sacred document – The Constitution.

Native American teens Kai and Dakota, despite harboring secrets of their own, join the team, and swear undying loyalty to Lance. They carry the hope of their people that the crusade will better the lives of Indian children, who are the most neglected by government. This new campaign will take the young people to The White House, the halls of Congress, and beyond in their quest to change the prevailing opinion that children are property, rather than human beings in their own right.

But an unseen nemesis stalks Lance and Arthur, and ratchets up the attacks on New Camelot, promising to kill them and destroy all that the king has put in place. Lance, Ricky, Kai, and Dakota become the enemy’s favorite targets, and barely escape with their lives on more than one occasion. Who is this mysterious stalker, and what is the motive for these attacks? Lance has no idea, especially since he’s never intentionally hurt anyone.

“You were right, little boy, death is coming for you, but slowly, and only after it takes out the people you love.” That chilling promise haunts Lance, but also strengthens his determination to protect the people he loves at all costs. Or die trying.

The Knight Cycle continues…


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael J. Bowler
Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of seven novels––A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards),Running Through A Dark Place, There Is No Fear, And The Children Shall Lead, and Once Upon A Time In America.

His horror screenplay, “Healer,” was a Semi-Finalist, and his urban fantasy script, “Like A Hero,” was a Finalist in the Shriekfest Film Festival and Screenplay Competition.

He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s 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 partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II,” the reviews of which are much more fun than the actual movies.

He 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. He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, something that is sorely lacking in this state.

He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed he and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He is currently at work on a horror/suspense novel based on his screenplay, “Healer.”


Tomorrow is election day across the U.S.  Various parties are vying for political majorities that equal more clout for their respective agendas in Congress.  Cut-throat advertisements fill bulletin boards and the airwaves.  And yet few of the politicians I've noted have mentioned children as more than statistics, unless speaking about their own children of course.  Few have noted how their efforts will make the country better for the children, other than to note a few overuse statistics about poverty, health care, and hunger.  What if politicians were called on their own navel-gazing by a child?

Lance has been through hell and back.  A youth who grew up seeing the worst of how the "system" operates when it comes to foster children and "expendable youth", he has had to face many demons in his life and most of them have worn political masks.  In this fourth installation in this series, And the Children Shall Lead continues Lance's story of challenging everyone's expectations.  His experience with the juvenile justice system in Book 3 coupled with his experience of being an "expendable youth" as a ward of the state has pushed him to make changes on the scale that matters most - nationally.  He and his beloved Ricky have drafted a Children's Bill of Rights to be amended to the Constitution of the U.S., but will the implications of the bill stop it in its tracks?  And what about the technological genius who seems bent on annihilating Lance psychologically before stealing his life?  

This superb continuation of Lance's story had me riveted as more than a few hours of sleep were lost as I had to continue reading to figure out what happens next.  Wonderful writing, amazing characters who are distinct, unique individuals, well-laid out settings, heart-pounding action that makes sense, and a call out to society to stop fu**ing up in how children are "handled"....this book has it all!  


The Good
Maybe it is because the author and I obviously share a passion for seeing true justice served for the nation's children, particularly those who are part of the social services system...but I love this book.  Maybe it is because I wish we actually had a movement happening akin to that in these pages...but I love this book.  Maybe it is simply because this book shows a reality of what can happen when youth are taken seriously, when their passions are taken seriously and not squashed by adults who "know better", when they are unleashed upon the world....but I love this book. 

Lance has escaped death more narrowly than he will ever know (and so resolves the cliffhanger from the previous book) and is working the country to get his "Children's Bill of Rights" passed as an amendment to the Constitution.  This amendment would require certain protections for children that are immediately necessary.  It would also reinvent not only the current parent/child power structure, but also that which currently exists between the U.S. Government and Native Americans.  

The problem (because of course there always is something) is that someone has made it clear that they are a cat and he is the mouse....and the cat's butt is twitching as it waits to pounce on the mouse and end its squeaky young life before its squeaking reminds other mice, and certain hinges (squeaky hinge gets the oil...) that there are ears willing to truly listen.  This "cat" has money, lots of it, and spares no expense in psychologically torturing Lance as he works for the good of so many.  

As I said in the review of the previous book, I'm not sure how many more glowing words I can write about the book series itself.  Bowler is an amazing writer whose talent shines through in a superbly crafted work that contains well crafted settings, characters who are painfully raw and simultaneously incredibly relateable and distinct from one another, thrilling action scenes held perfectly alongside tender moments, etc etc etc.  I love Bowler's writing style and how he shines a glaring light on something that we as a nation have become incredibly good at politely sweeping under the run - the plight of our "optional" children, the ones never expected to amount to anything, or those whom adults simply can't be bothered with.  I should note here that I really appreciate that Bowler takes time in this installation of the series to deal with issues that Native American's have faced in this area. The U.S. government has traditionally sucked in relations to First Nation's individuals, and they continue to suck.  Thank you for addressing this here. 

Seriously - read these books.  I wish this movement were real and this were a non-fiction rather than a fictional book.  I wish it wouldn't take something as big as King Arthur himself showing up to start something like this.  Enough of the need exists in a very non-fictional way....what do we need to do to set off the initial spark?

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
There are a few minor typos - nothing too major but surely something an editor should have caught.  Again, I'd gripe at the major cliffhanger at the end...but that is Bowler's style and I can't fault him for a stylistic choice that I can't honestly say I wouldn't employ if in his shoes.  

Everyone just needs to read this book, acknowledge their place in being complicit in the real-world issues this series tackles, and take action.  Our nation's children need us to get off our butts and do something.  Heck, let's amend the Constitution!!  It's been done before!