Sunday, May 18, 2014

Mike Mullin

Mike Mullin’s first job was scraping the gum off the undersides of desks at his high school. From there, things went steadily downhill. He almost got fired by the owner of a bookstore due to his poor taste in earrings. He worked at a place that showed slides of poopy diapers during lunch (it did cut down on the cafeteria budget). The hazing process at the next company included eating live termites raised by the resident entomologist, so that didn’t last long either. For a while Mullin juggled bottles at a wine shop, sometimes to disastrous effect. Oh, and then there was the job where swarms of wasps occasionally tried to chase him off ladders. So he’s really glad this writing thing seems to be working out.

Mullin holds a black belt in Songahm Taekwondo. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and her three cats. Sunrise is his third novel. Ashfall, the first novel of the trilogy, was named one of the top five young adult novels of 2011 by National Public Radio, a Best Teen Book of 2011 by Kirkus Reviews, and a New Voices selection by the American Booksellers Association.

Earlier this month I asked the author about what he was reading. Mullin's reply:
Yesterday I read The Crossover by Kwame Alexander. It’s a novel in verse—a format that will often dissuade me from picking up a book. Too often the format has nothing to do with the content, and thus feels like a gimmick that slows me down as a reader without accomplishing anything that couldn’t have been done with prose. But in The Crossover, Alexander uses his poems—particularly the ones relating to basketball—with a dazzling, slashing virtuosity. I could almost hear the music as I read: a crunk beat that could as easily back a Lil Jon song as a young adult novel.

Josh Bell and his twin brother are seventh grade basketball phenoms, leading their team on a seemingly inexorable march toward a championship. But their season and their previously unshakeable bond are threatened by the usual young adult problems: girl troubles, school troubles, and parent troubles. While the problems are typical—the way Alexander handles them is not: every time I thought he was heading for a stereotypical resolution, he performs a crossover of his own, intensifying the conflict that drives his novel. Fair warning—the ending, while brilliant—may well leave you crumpled at half-court in a puddle of tears.

I have only two minor quibbles. Early on, I occasionally found the viewpoint difficult to figure out—it wasn’t always clear which brother was playing and which was riding the bench. That may have more to do with my deficiencies as a reader of novels-in-verse than with Alexander’s book. My other quibble? I worry that the format will limit the book’s audience, and this is an outstanding book that deserves to be read widely.
Learn more about the book and author at Mike Mullin's website.

Writers Read: Mike Mullin (October 2011).

My Book, The Movie: Ashfall.

--Marshal Zeringue