As my previous posts have probably made clear by now, I’m a devoted fan of comic books, superheroes and science fiction. So when I first came across Michael S. Fedison’s YA novel The Eye-Dancers, a book that so affectionately wears its comic book loving heart on its sleeve, my interest was piqued.
The Eye-Dancers begins by introducing us to Mitchell Brant, a self-conscious fourth grader with parents on the cusp of divorce, a box full of Fantastic Four comics, anxiety problems around girls and a compulsive lying habit. He’s an average kid with average luck, but this is swiftly thrown into disarray when he suddenly begins experiencing terrifyingly lifelike dreams of a ghostly little girl with spinning blue eyes. He’s not the only one; his two best friends, Joe and Ryan, are having the same nightmares. Banding together with their brainiac classmate Marc Kuslanski, the seventh graders form their own sort of makeshift Fantastic Four and set off on an adventure that will take them beyond the confines of this universe.
The science fiction ideas here are interesting—parallel realities and the multiverse are pretty familiar subjects to most comic readers—but as a whole, Fedison focuses on the development of his four lead characters. Each of the boys has a unique personality, with unique fears and anxieties. Whereas most YA books tend to focus on high school angst, Fedison instead makes the choice to set his story right in the boys’ middle school years, which gives it an entirely different tone; middle school stories, as a whole, are less about anger and more about pained unsureness. Whereas high schoolers are marching toward the cusp of adulthood and looking forward, middle schoolers are standing right at the exit door of childhood—and looking back, worriedly.
There’s a cheerfully adventurous, Stan Lee-era comic book tone to this, but like the best comic stories, it’s tempered by melancholy, sadness and redemption. Similar to the classic 90s TV series Quantum Leap, the science fiction elements are here mainly to advance the story, and not so much as the focus.
But what really makes The Eye-Dancers special is its innate likability. The book is clearly a labor of love, written by a writer who is putting all of his favorite things together into one one work, toiling away out of pure passion, telling the exact story that his heart wants him to tell. After reading The Eye-Dancers, it’s impossible not to cheer him on—and to hope that he has more books waiting in the wings.