Book: Hero Worship
Author: Christopher E. Long
Age Range: 12 and up
Hero Worship is an upcoming young adult title by Christopher E. Long. Technically, Hero Worship is a dystopia, set in a future civilization that is similar to ours, except for the some advanced technologies, and the harsh rules guiding the rights of certain segments of the population. But for practical purposes, Hero Worship is speculative fiction that explores what might happen to society if a small percentage of the population developed superpowers. Funnily enough, I recently read an adult title with a very similar premise (Marcus Sakey's Brilliance). But Hero Worship is clearly young adult fiction, with its emphasis on the personality, and personal growth, of the primary narrator, Marvin.
Marvin is something of a classic superhero - he has super-strength and speed, but only after he drinks in fear from someone nearby. He's quite powerful, and wishes that he could be part of The Core, a group of famous superheroes who aid law enforcement. But because his power was branded "dirty" after a required government blood test, it's illegal for Marvin to use his superpowers. He's relegated to earning a meager living as a dishwasher. He lives with two other teens who are also dirty: Yvonne, who can induce mindless bliss in anyone she touches; and Kent, who can change his appearance by molding his shape (and can turn into a puddle, basically). After Marvin saves a family, a member of The Core seeks him out, and offers him a chance to become part of their group. And Marvin learns that things are not always as they seem.
I think that this premise, and the various superpowers held by the different characters, will appeal to young readers. I found it interesting, but I would have liked to see a bit more background/context. How did these superpowers develop? How long has the world been divided into "clean", dirty", and "normies", and people with no powers?
I did like Marvin as a character. He's driven by personal demons, and tries hard to do the right thing. He matures quite a bit over the course of the book (though not much calendar time passes). I found him a bit naive, especially early in the book, but this does nothing to diminish his appeal.
Hero Worship has a reasonable balance of introspection and action. Here's some introspection:
"On the way to the convenience store, I think about last night and how Eliza just acted. Perhaps that is what's required of members of The Core -- just act, don't think. I recognize that I overanalyze everything. I spend so much time thinking about how I should act, I don't do anything." (Chapter Eighteen)
And here's some action:
"In a blur, I speed toward the hoodlum. I reach out and grab hold of Jackson, pulling him out of the hood-rat's grasp. Clutching the boy to my chest, I run him to safety behind the SUV. The ringleader hasn't even had time to process that he no longer has a grip on the young boy as I connect my clenched fist to the side of his head."(Chapter Three)
There's one coincidence in Hero Worship that I found overdone (an unnecessary scene in which Marvin reads a seemingly random books, the knowledge from which turns out to be helpful later). But I thought that the superhero bits were well-done. Kent is particularly interesting as a case study. And the larger societal aspects (discrimination against the "dirties", the collapse of the factory districts, the rise of a shadow economy) lend a bit of heft to what is otherwise a quick, light read.
Much of Hero Worship would actually be fine for readers younger than 12, but there are some references to sex (a character who uses her sex appeal as a weapon), as well as drinking and drug use (not by the protagonists, but it's there). It's like a complex comic book come to life, though Long leaves the reader to imagine his or her own pictures). I think it would be a good fit for reluctant teen readers, especially boys, and anyone who has ever wondered what it would be like to be a superhero.
Publisher: Flux (@FluxBooks)
Publication Date: January 8, 2014
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes should be checked against the final book.
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