Completed 10/5/2019, Reviewed 10/6/2019
This was a really fun book. It’s a YA novel, and reads like one. It’s not great prose, there’s a lot of exposition, and it’s not even that original. But the plot and the characters made up for its shortcomings. It’s a coming of age tale of a teen boy who turns out to be a superhero and gay and tries to hide his identity from his father who is both a failed superhero and homophobic. The book was nominated for the Gaylactic Spectrum Award in 2008 and won the Lambda Literary Award for Children’s/YA novel in 2007. Despite its accolades, it’s not a great book, but I really enjoyed the heck out of it.
The plot revolves around Thom Creed. He’s a pretty good basketball player in high school. He lives with his dad, a former superhero who has been disgraced and works now as a blue-collar laborer. His mother left the family a while before. Thom has secrets, as mentioned above. After being on a bus attacked by super villains, and performing his superpowers of healing on the victims, he’s invited to try out for the League, the big superhero team. Unbeknownst to his father, he becomes a probationary member. Teamed with several other new members, they go about practicing their superhero gifts in simulations, and eventually in real life. Then, some great members of the League turn up dead, and it’s a race to find out the murderer before all hell breaks loose.
The plot is a little more complicated and multi-layered than that, but that’s the gist of it. Thom tries to juggle his new-found career as a burgeoning superhero with school, basketball, two jobs, and volunteering, as well as keeping his sexuality and superhero training a secret, particularly from his dad. Hal was a sidekick to a superhero, he had no powers of his own, but he did something that, while saving the world, cost the lives of 27,000 people (I think that’s the right number). This got him exiled from the League and he became a national disgrace. Now he resents the League and is a homophobe to boot. Unfortunately, rumors are spreading about Thom being gay, which gets him kicked off the basketball team. So there’s more for him to keep secret from his dad.
Even though it’s what he’s always wanted to do, being a probationary member of the League is no picnic either. Compared to all the other newbies, he’s still rather untamed, having seizures whenever he uses his powers. He’s teamed with a motley crew, Typhoid Larry who gets people sick, Scarlett who controls fire, and Ruth, a chain-smoking old woman who can see the future. The team is lead by Golden Boy, a seasoned hero. The team is pretty awesome, with lots of quirks and tons of personality. Some of their personal details were melodramatic, but it worked for me. They were multidimensional and grew through the story.
Thom has a love interest, although they start out as enemies, and the buildup is rather slow. Like much of the book, you see it coming, but the journey is still fun. For that matter, you see most of the twists in the story coming. It’s not particularly inventive in that way, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
The one thing I didn’t care for in the book was that the main superheroes were based on the DC and Marvel comic superheroes. So Uberman was Superman. There was a Wonder Woman-like character that was so like Wonder Woman, I forgot the actual character’s name. I thought this lacked originality on the author’s part. A few of the minor ones had cute, original names, but were only mentioned in passing here and there. Even the League is so close to Justice League, I read the latter whenever I saw the former.
I give the book four stars out of five despite its shortcomings because I thought it was so entertaining. For a first novel, I give the author props for a job pretty well done. Unfortunately, he died from an apparent suicide, mixing pain killers he was taking for back and knee pain. Before he died, he was the executive producer of the Narnia movies, and had written and directed several smaller films with his partner. I think this book shows a lot of potential and if he kept on growing in his writing, I think the author would have gone on to write some pretty great stuff.