Heart. That’s what fills the writings of Michael J. Bowler. Love, empathy, a warm embrace of humanity, together equals a special kind of goodness that flows through his pages. To be blunt, if you don’t like to feel, then don’t read his work. But if you’re okay with getting emotional, he has the ability to tug at your heartstrings like no one else can.
This unique quality is most apparent in the character of John, an eleven-year-old boy dying of cancer who uses his Make-A-Wish to meet Lance, the lynchpin to King Arthur’s return to glory in twenty-first century Los Angeles. Yes, this is a fantasy novel, but the realistic way it’s written makes it fascinatingly believable. Lance is everything that John wants to be, but since he’s living on borrowed time, he’ll sadly never make it out of childhood to follow Lance on his crusade.
But Lance has a lot of pressure on his young shoulders. He’s only a teen himself, yet kids look up to him as some sort of role model, admiring how he stands up for their rights against the authority figures in their lives, everyone from government officials to teachers to parents. Under King Arthur’s guidance, all Lance wants is to give kids an equal voice in determining their futures, changing laws and putting them on a even playing field with adults.
Of course, this causes a social uproar, creating a new battlefront when it comes to ageism, that pits young against old. Lance is treading on ground that hasn’t been crossed before. Those in power don’t want to give it up, and those that don’t have it are going to rally behind Lance until they get it, collecting signatures and staging nonviolent sit-ins, refusing to talk to adults until they sign a petition that would give all those fourteen and over the right to vote.
John knows that he probably won’t live to see Lance’s initiatives pass, but he’s determined to thank him in person, especially when Lance is caught in a compromising position on camera, creating a serious public relations gaffe. Some people turn on Lance, mocking him for being a hypocrite and for hurting the cause, but not John. He stands by his hero, sending him words of encouragement while others mercilessly rip him apart online.
When John finally arrives at the new Camelot, Lance’s trampled spirits are buoyed by the boy’s sense of optimism and hope. Lance finds the boy’s attitude so contagious, he surprises John with a last minute knighting ceremony, making the dying boy’s unspoken wish come true, taking it upon himself to reward John for his unwavering loyalty. Lance makes John one of them, inducting him into the brotherhood he admired so much from afar.
When John struggles to his feet and holds a sword aloft, it’s easily the most emotional moment in the book. His faith in Lance, reenergizes his idol, giving him a fresh perspective on just how precious life is, making Lance renew his vow not to take a second of it for granted. John’s purity of heart reminds Lance that life is a gift and should not be treated lightly. Lance might be the esteemed leader that everyone looks up to, but John is the one who is able to steer him back on course.
The interaction between the two is just a snippet of the entire book, yet it speaks volumes to the type of author Bowler is and the distinctive young adult characters he so lovingly creates.