“They’re brave,” Mary said. “But we are too. Because while they’re out there, saving the world, we’re the ones they come home to.”
I’ve actually come back and edited this review since my original read-through as the longer I’ve sat with this book the more uncomfortable I am with it and the more I dislike it. Going to keep my original review intact but adding notes below.
Rating: 1 stars!
Thanks to Hodder and Stoughton and Tor Teen for a review copy of this book, it has not affected my honest review.
Trigger warnings: copaganda, witness assault (not challenged), controlling medication, death and grief, ‘joking’ pedophilia accusations (explained below), violence.
Nick Bell is nothing special. Nothing extraordinary, even if he does immerse himself in the Extraordinaries fandom every day. Being the most popular fanfiction writer in the fandom is a superpower of its own, right? When a chance encounter with his biggest crush, and Nova City’s mightiest hero, Shadow Star has him starstruck, Nick sets out to make himself extraordinary. And he’s going to succeed, with or without the reluctant help of Seth Gray, his best friend (and maybe the love of his life).
What did I think?
This book absolutely nailed the cringey teenager factor. It was like watching the best kind of noughties movies, where it’s almost too hard to watch. I laughed out loud a lot, whilst also panic closing the kindle app on my phone every time Nick said anything. I’ve never been so glad to be out of my awkward teenage years as I was reading Nick’s awkward teenage years. This book leans heavily on the secret identities, lack of self-awareness and miscommunication tropes, but they were done well enough that they weren’t frustrating to read. When the evidence was there, Nick put it together. It was always about two chapters after I did, and made me want to bang the character’s heads together, but it was excellent fun to read. The characters were fleshed out and interesting, and I loved the supporting cast of queer characters, particularly Gibby and Jazz. I identified with Gibby way too much.
Okay, I put loads of trigger warnings above, and I want to explain most of them. This is slightly spoilery. Not for major plot points, but for each of the warned triggers. I think for a lot of people, this book won’t be particularly triggering at all and will be very enjoyable, but the things I did list above aren’t challenged at all so I think if they are triggering to a reader they’re going to be extremely triggering. The copaganda was so jarring to me every time it happened. I can understand where Klune wanted to use the hero comparisons, and I do think that it would have been tricky to get the same comparisons that he used with another career (though Nick’s dad should have been a firefighter) but it felt really strange to me for this book to specifically reference Black Lives Matter protests in the first few chapters and then spend a chunk of the book defending a police officer who assaulted a witness because of issues in his personal life. The officer gets a demotion but the book says on the page that the rest of the officer’s colleagues defended him and made sure that he didn’t lose his job. That was just so off to me when Black Lives Matter is primarily protesting police brutality (and while you’re here, support BLM causes here).
The main character’s father is also in charge of controlling his medication. Nick isn’t able to access his pills, he has to get them from his father when he needs them, or from a school nurse with permission from his father. The last, and strangest, of the trigger warnings are the joking pedophilia accusations. This one is so weird? There’s a character who has to look after the main character on a few occasions and he and his friends (also teenagers) just repeatedly accuse a stranger of being attracted to them and accuse him of being a pedophile. It wasn’t funny, and felt totally unnecessary. It was just uncomfortable, and the accused character is a near-stranger to them. Why would anyone do that and think it was funny?
The above issues are what lost this book its stars. I think this could have been a five star read for me otherwise. It did read like someone in their late-thirties writing teenagers. There were just moments that the slang and the way they talked to each other just felt… off. It was a much better attempt than some others that I’ve read, but the moments that didn’t work really jolted me out of the story.
Note: The longer I’ve sat with my problems with this book, the more unhappy I am with it. I do not recommend this book despite the parts I enjoyed and I won’t personally be reading more of Klune’s work as the attitudes in this book – and the non-apology the author presented for them – are too off-putting for me to look past.
Add it on Goodreads here!