Hero, by Perry Moore
Thom Creed tries not to disappoint his dad, a disgraced caped crusader who now toils as a factory drudge, so he keeps his gay identity and his developing superpowers under wraps. Then he secretly tries out for the prestigious League, joining aspiring heroes in villain-busting adventures that escalate alongside more private discoveries. Written in a wry, first-person voice realistically peppered with occasional slang and slurs, this ambitious first novel from a Hollywood producer doesn't entirely cohere. The alternate-reality framework is too cursory, and the more realistic strands feel overstuffed with problems, even as they incorporate many well-chosen scenes (including Thom's awkward, anonymous first pickup, which goes only as far as a kiss). Still, Moore's casting of a gay teen hero in a high-concept fantasy marks an significant expansion of GLBTQ literature into genres that reflect teens' diverse reading interests; given the mainstream popularity of comics-inspired tales, the average, ordinary, gay teen superhero who comes out and saves the world will raise cheers from within the GLBTQ community and beyond.
Recently I was talking with my fabulous friend Cassie, who is a bestselling author of young adult fantasy novels, about the dearth of variety in GLBT novels for the teenage audience. Oh, there's stuff out there, but it's all so heavy. It's all about coming out, and family angst, and depression and self-injury. She made the point that gay people interested in gay literature don't just want to read books that are all about Being Gay, capital B, capital G. They want (and the rest of us want, too) to read books that are just like all the other books, except with gay characters. Mysteries, romances, adventure, drama...superheroes! But with gay characters!
I couldn't agree more. Perry Moore's "Hero" is just such a novel. Young Thom's struggles with coming out are certainly an element of the plot, but it isn't the central focus. He's coming to terms not just with who he but what he is, namely a superhero. This book has rapturous reviews, including an astonishing 4.5 star rating over over 100 reviews on Amazon.com. I wish I were as in love with it as everyone else. Which isn't to say I didn't like the book, I liked it a lot or else I would not feature it here. The characters, while a tad too numerous for my taste, were richly drawn and engaging. The story's central mystery was well-drawn and its superhero scenes of derring-do were awesome. Moore got truly creative with the powers of his heroes. My favorite is a character whose ability is making other people physically ill, which turned out to be surprisingly effective. Hard to unleash your death ray on an unsuspecting populace when you're puking your guts out. Thom's power, to heal injuries, grows and changes as he comes into his own, and his fellow heroes change as well. It's a novel not just about finding out who you are, but about finding who other people aren't, and they're usually not what you thought they were. Moore's writing is fast-moving and accessible, and the book is G-rated enough for just about any age teen. The secret identity of a key character was so obvious to me that I rolled my eyes a bit, but on reflection I wondered if that wasn't intentional on Moore's part, a laugh on those superheroes we know who are supposed to be hiding behind a mere pair of glasses. All told it's a great book, with a protagonist who is gay but so much more. More, please. Or a sequel! That'd be SWEET!
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