Changing Michael

By Jeff Schilling, Read by William Coon Length:  5 hours, 53 min[Unabridged]

Excerpt

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Changing Michael CoverMatthew knows how things work. He’s pretty much an expert.

For example: friends. Friendship requires both give and take, and Matthew strongly prefers taking. The solution is close acquaintances—people who think you’re their friend because you nod and act interested about whatever the hell they’re talking about.

School? Perfectly pleasant as long as you don’t pay attention.

Mom? Award yourself a point for each hands on hips or young man. Wear her down until you can get what you want.

The general rule: The less anyone knows about you, the better.

But even someone as clever as Matthew needs practice.

That’s where Michael comes in.

See, Michael doesn’t get it. He’s the kind of kid who comes up with the answer before the teacher. He’s the kind of kid who asks questions. He’s the kind of kid who still has the ratty old backpack he should have thrown in someone’s dumpster years ago.

Consequently, he’s the kind of kid who gets the crap beaten out of him on a regular basis.

So one day, Matthew, out of the kindness of his heart, decides to help Michael out. Turn his life around. Teach him how to make his life as great as Matthew’s.

Before long, Matthew is helping Michael screw with his NASCAR-loving stepfather. He’s spreading rumors to convince the population of Alexander High School that Michael is a serious badass. He weaves his way into the lives of Michael’s estranged dad, and even Chrissy, the half-sister Michael never even knew he had.

But what if Michael isn’t grateful for all of Matthew’s hard work? What if he actually likes who he is? Why the hell would he, and for that matter, why should Matthew even care?

Changing Michael is an absorbing exploration into the head of one of the most fascinating high school characters since Holden Caulfield. Jeff Schilling’s remarkably insightful debut presents a story and a narrative voice readers will remember for a very long time to come.

Praise for Changing Michael

An entertaining teen novel that even adults can enjoy. — Gary Longwell, YA Librarian

It’s been a while since I’ve seen young adult fiction done quite this well. — Stuart Krause, Teacher

Does what all great stories do: challenges the way we think about ourselves and our relationships. — Christine Avery, English Teacher at Eaglecrest High School

High school student Matthew is a master manipulator. He takes pride in finding ways to aggravate his parents and get his friends to do whatever he wants. When he comes across fellow student Michael being bullied by another student, he decides to take Michael on as a project. He will transform Michael, whom Matthew views as a hapless “bottom feeder,” by teaching him the manipulative skills that Matthew has honed so successfully. The most important lesson, according to Matthew, is to never reveal what you are feeling or thinking. But, as the lessons proceed, it is Matthew who begins to reluctantly understand that, although his strategy is effective in many ways, it keeps him isolated, unhappy, and ultimately very angry. This is a powerful and compelling psychological novel that also disturbs. Matthew seems quite close to being a sociopath, and although he is often witty in his snide remarks about others, one sometimes feels uneasy in empathizing with him. Michael is the perfect foil to Matthew’s character. His ability to relate to others and feel compassion is highly developed. The contrast between the two and how they affect each other makes for an intriguing story. Although the ending seems a bit abrupt, the plot is tense and well paced. These characters will inhabit the reader’s mind long after the last page. High school readers who enjoy dramatic problem novels, such as Scrawl (Macmillan, 2010/Voya October 2010) by Mark Shulman, will find this a fascinating read. Ages 15 to 18. — Jan Chapman, VOYA, October 2014 (Vol. 37, No. 4)

About Jeff Schilling

Jeff Schilling was born in San Diego, CA, and grew up in Falls Church, VA. He attended Virginia Tech and is now residing in Denver, CO, where he is a teacher of Creative Writing. His presence in Education speaks to his understanding of the struggles of young men in America and abroad.