Simmons, Michael 1970–
Simmons, Michael 1970–
Home—New York, NY.
Writer. Previously worked at a publishing house.
Pool Boy, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2003.
Finding Lubchenko, Razorbill (New York, NY), 2005.
The Rise of Lubchenko, Razorbill (New York, NY), 2006.
Vandal, Roaring Brook Press (New Milford, CT), 2006.
Young-adult novelist Michael Simmons did not set out to become an author, but he was eventually motivated to pursue the occupation while working at a publishing company. "I was … writing teaching guides for popular young adult novels," the author related on the Random House Web site. "I liked a lot of them, and thought I might be able to write one myself. I had published short stories in the past, but never a novel, so this was my first crack at a longer piece. But it seemed to fall into place pretty easily. As for teen audiences, the best way to write for them is to forget that they're teenagers. When books for young readers don't succeed, it's usually because the author is too conscious of his or her audience."
Debuting with Pool Boy, Simmons received wide praise for his realistic depiction of a teenager facing major changes in his life. Fifteen-year-old Brett is the son of a rich man and enjoys all the material privileges that go with wealth. Obnoxious and self-centered, he is shocked when his father goes to prison for insider trading. The family's fortunes quickly turn, and Brett finds himself living on the wrong side of the tracks and working as a pool boy. He even has to clean the pool at the house that used to belong to his family. Brett is supervised by Alfie, a poor man who also drives a bus for a living but who has a spirited perspective on life that is refreshing. Gradually, Brett warms up to Alfie, but soon faces another tragedy when the elderly Alfie is rushed to the hospital. "It's no mean feat, rendering a character who is both detestable and sympathetic," observed a Kirkus Reviews writer; "Simmons has done this." School Library Journal critic Hillias J. Martin called the author's portrayals "dead on" and praised Simmons for taking readers on a "humorous yet thought-provoking journey." Claudia Mody, writing in Bookseller, asserted that Pool Boy "shows surprisingly sharp insight for a first novel, and features the most engagingly arrogant antihero of the year."
Simmons followed Pool Boy with the teen thrillers Finding Lubchenko and The Rise of Lubchenko. Less serious in theme than Pool Boy, these books are about Evan, whose father heads a medical technology company. The smart-mouthed Evan takes advantage of this by occasionally stealing small pieces of equipment and selling them on eBay. This scheme backfires when Evan takes a laptop containing files that he later learns could clear his father of a murder charge. Instead of telling his father he has the information that can free him but land Evan in big trouble, the teen flies to Paris to find a man named Lubchenko who can also solve the case. Comparing Evan to Brett, School Library Journal critic Martin wrote that "Simmons once again masters the voice of a smart-alecky teenage boy." "This is a fast-paced comic thriller, with plenty of twists, turns, technology and good old adolescent fun," reported Kliatt reviewer Michele Winship.
The Rise of Lubchenko finds Evans once again in trouble. This time, the teenager receives a mysterious tip that his father's partner is trying to sell a sample of smallpox virus to terrorists and that his family is also being targeted by killers. "Reading like an action movie, this sequel packs just as much punch as the first book," remarked Michelle Roberts in School Library Journal.
A story with deeper psychological themes, Vandal introduces Will, an ordinary teen dealing with high school, a crush on a girl, and his efforts to make his Kiss tribute band succeed. A huge complication in Will's life is his delinquent older brother, Jason, who seems determined to wreak havoc everywhere he goes. Will, who still feels like he needs his brother's approval, invites Jason to be a roadie for his band, but the results are disastrous. Jason seems determined to pursue a path of self-destruction, but when he cripples his sister in a car accident, events come to a head. Booklist reviewer Jennifer Mattson described the characterization as "nuanced," adding that "the pacing is skillfully modulated, and the conclusion, free of nostrums about catharsis and rehabilitation, feels touching and true." Mary R. Hoffmann, writing in School Library Journal, was disappointed with the characters, however, writing that it seemed that no one learned any lessons from Jason's behavior. "Sadly, the characters are as flat as the ending, making it difficult to believe or care what happens," Hoffmann reported. Other critics found Simmons' portrayal of a family plagued by one destructive member to be convincingly realistic. Paula Rohrlick commented in Kliatt that in Vandal the author "conveys the complex mix of emotions Jason stirs up in Will poignantly and believably," and a Publishers Weekly writer lauded Simmons for offering "no easy answers."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, April 1, 2003, Hazel Rochman, review of Pool Boy, p. 1391; July 1, 2006, Jennifer Mattson, review of Vandal, p. 57; September 1, 2006, Debbie Carton, review of The Rise of Lubchenko, p. 112.
Bookseller, January 16, 2004, Claudia Mody, review of Pool Boy, p. 37.
Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2003, review of Pool Boy, p. 757; May 15, 2005, review of Finding Lubchenko, p. 596; May 1, 2006, review of Vandal, p. 467.
Kliatt, July, 2003, Paula Rohrlick, review of Pool Boy, p. 18; May, 2005, Michele Winship, review of Finding Lubchenko, p. 18; May, 2006, Paula Rohrlick, review of Vandal, p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, May 5, 2003, review of Pool Boy, p. 222; April 24, 2006, review of Vandal, p. 62.
School Library Journal, April, 2003, Hillias J. Martin, review of Pool Boy, p. 168; June, 2005, Hillias J. Martin, review of Finding Lubchenko, p. 169; June, 2006, Mary R. Hofmann, review of Vandal, p. 166; September, 2006, Michelle Roberts, review of The Rise of Lubchenko, p. 218.
Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (February 25, 2007), interview with Simmons.