Aug 29, 2011

Hero - Perry Moore

Hero is my annual Random Young Adult Book for 2011. My previous one - Ryan Brown's Play Dead (Review) was based on the awesome cover and my latent zombie love, and ended up a spectacular - if entertaining - failure. What drew me to Hero was the unique premise. And this time I don't feel stupid for spending the short time it took to read it.

Set in an alternate present-day Earth reminiscent of the Marvel/DC comic book universes, the novel tells the story of Thom Creed - a teenager with a lot of problems weighing heavily on him. He is a basketball star in his high school team, but still he has no friends because he is also the son of the world's once-premier superhero Major Might. Failing to prevent a horrible tragedy due to his lack of super-powers, Hal Creed was disgraced and blamed for the thousands of victims, and has been met with hostility and ostracized ever since. Thom also possesses healing abilities that he is just barely beginning to understand, which in a house where heroes are taboo is anything but a good thing. And if that is not enough, the boy hides an even bigger secret from his dad - he is gay.

A chance encounter with the A-listers of the League of Heroes ends with Thom being recruited as a probationary member, and put in a team of misfit wannabe heroes, each with their quirky power and personal issues. But even as he struggles with the secret he is hiding from everyone, a much bigger problem arises - someone is killing the world's most powerful superheroes, and Thom quickly finds himself in a place where his choices might determine the fate of many.

Hero is young adult all the way through, but at the same time it deals with the adolescent issues in a serious and honest manner. The superhero world is intentionally made cliche. Many of the A-listers are clearly recognizable DC characters like Superman, Flash or Wonder Woman, with only the name and clothing changed. Moore doesn't try to be original, and it seems to me his purpose was to create a comic-book universe that felt familiar and comfortable to the teenage readers. Even if I am more of a Marvel guy myself, I have to say he has succeeded. The world is a wonderful background for the allegory of growing up different and fighting to find your own value among hatred and bigotry.

The theme of Thom's sexuality is obviously the most important one, permeating practically everything else in the story, but Hero is surprisingly pure in that it doesn't focus on the sexual attraction so much as on the internal conflict and the need for support. At the same time, this is a book about growing up, surviving adversity, and finding your own wings, so it can be an equally pleasant read for any non-bigoted reader no matter their sexuality. It definitely doesn't feel like a "gay read". Also, despite the writing and story being on the YA side, the novel contains some pretty harsh language and a lot of description of grizzly violence, especially towards the end. Yet somehow those don't really clash with the concept, but instead serve to enhance it, to add more depth to it.

Perry Moore's writing style, on the other hand, leaves something to be desired. Hero is his debut novel, and it shows. Of course, YA books tend to be judged by lower standards stylistically, but even so the prose often feels rushed, uneven and chunky. Surprisingly, this didn't prevent me from enjoying the story, which - in contrast to the sometimes clumsy writing - is perfectly paced, the built-up to the epic showdown executed with confidence, and with enough plot twists to keep the interest until the very last page (even if most of them are pretty obvious for an older audience). Moore also has a very good instincts where describing superhero battles and large-scale cool-looking events are concerned, and the description of those is usually top notch.

The characterization is also uneven, but this is easily forgivable. Hero is, after all, the story of one boy's journey of self-discovery, and as such, it focuses heavily on him. Thom is well developed and feels real and interesting enough to forgive him his sometimes unrealistic lack of confidence, considering he is after all, an athletic jock with a superpower. That said, many other characters - like Thom's father, the old and sarcastic compulsive smoker precog Ruth or the haughty and constantly angry Scarlett who hides her own painful secrets behind her fiery powers - receive a really decent amount of fleshing out, almost surprisingly deep considering the target age group. Ironically, the least well developed is Thom's love interest who isn't even identified as such until very late in the novel, even though we are constantly in the kid's head and should've gotten the memo earlier.

In the end, Hero is a really good book. The unrealistic setting serves to enhance the very real problems Moore deals with, while at the same time also presenting the palette for a cool superhero story that examines the usual coming out drama in a new and exciting light, without undervaluing it. It is an entertaining and quick read, and at best it might even make you think about the struggles of many kids all over the world, dealing with what Thom faces without having superpowers.


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