Wednesday, September 8, 2010

REVIEW: Powerless

PowerlessCody, M.  (2009).  Powerless.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf.

277 pages.

So, I've been dropping the ball when it comes to remembering to read and review middle grade novels.  Of course I love them dearly, but with realizing I wanted to write YA full-time, novels for younger readers have been forgotten in the middle of my to-be-read piles.  (Picturebooks, however, I'm doing better at keeping up on, if only due to the fact that they are usually a short 32 pages and faster reads)

But, I will fail you no longer, middle grade books!  It is time to show some love again.  Starting with a superhero book!

First off, I really liked the cover of this book.  I thought the falling superhero did a good job of presenting the content.  The colors and the fact that the superhero resembles a toy will attract the targeted age of male readers.  But of course, I am not an easily swayed reader.  I chose to read this book for other reasons too.

For those of you who don't KNOW ME, know me, I LURVE superheroes.  I used to be in the closet about my love for Batman, Wolverine, Rogue, Spiderman back in the day, but NO MORE!  Say it loud, say it proud.  I love superheroes and the fun lil' adventures they have.

I had a crush on Batman for most of grade school.  I designed my own costume (called the Ravin) and one night I tearfully informed my parents that I was going to become a superhero and that they should be prepared to assist in my plans to fight crimes.  (I imagined they would serve some "Alfred" type role, for which their first duty would be to raise the funds for me to afford similar weapons to those that Batman had.  As well as invent a new vehicle that would take me around the country in a matter of minutes to fight crime.  Even then I grasped that my Michigan hometown didn't have much in the way of supervillains.)

I'm always looking for new takes on superheroes.  So, when I heard that Powerless is about a town of superpowered kids who all lose their powers and memories of their powers when they turn 13, I had to investigate.

Fun!  Right?

Appetizer:  Noble's Green is the safest town in the world.  And it's all due to the young superheroes that live there.  But when those heroes turn thirteen, they lose their superpowers.  It's up to the new boy in town, Daniel, who is powerless, to figure out why.

Daniel, his little brother and parents have all moved to town to help his grandmother who is losing her battle to cancer.  He adjusts to town quickly, making both friends and enemies.  But he can't help but notice that some of the kids...well, they seem to be able to do impossible things, like reach Daniel's little brother more quickly than oncoming traffic, or save Daniel when he is bullied off the side of a mountain (true story).

So, to begin the story, the reader is first presented with Michael's experience of flying (which is awesome!) and then the story shows Michael forgetting about his superpower on his thirteenth birthday.  And then AND THEN the story introduces Daniel, the new kid in town, who is the protagonist for the rest of the story.
And while Michael appears for one scene mid-book, he kinda disappears from the story...forever.

I didn't know how I felt about this run-around to finally meet Daniel.  I'd been prepared to spend the next 260 pages with Michael.  So, the shift surprised me.  And since the reader witnesses another superhero turn thirteen later in the text, I wasn't certain the Michael bits were even necessary.

On top of that, I had some SERIOUS trouble getting into this book at first.  Have you noticed that it's been listed on my Goodreads "Currlently Reading" list for like, three weeks?  I kept getting distracted by other books, movies, bits of paper.  Of course, that sounds tragically awful, to say that a book was "put down-able."  I'd rather focus on the fact that I kept picking it back up.  (This is not always the case with me.  Technically I began reading Terry Pratchett's Nation in January...I'm still on page 50-something.  You all should start placing bets on whether I'll ever finish that one.  I finally decided to take out out of the Goodreads "currently reading" shelf, because I figured you, my few readers, would assume that I'd slipped off the curve of the planet if I didn't note some change.)

Now, you could argue that the first 100 pages are essential.  They show Daniel making friends and being bullied.  Those pages show how fun having superpowers can be, allowing the reader to have fun with the characters as they play a super-powered version of hide-and-seek.

But personally, I only got into the book once we started seeing the bad guy.  He kind of had an eerie Voldemort in Sorcerer's Stone vibe:
"It was dark inside, and through the open window Daniel smelled something new--a pungent odor, like burnt hair.  As he peered over the ledge, a blast of cold air hit him in the face and he saw a hooded shape standing in the darkness.  It was tall, like an adult, but only vaguely human-shaped.  In the blackness of Simon's room, this figure stood out in its absence of light--a thing darker than the dark itself" (p. 107).
Cool right?  That's pretty much when I got hooked.

From there on out I became more impressed with the book.  This this fun fear-of-aging tension.  The Supers, as they're called, fear their thirteen birthday (Sidenote--that was actually my bestest birthday ever!  The Dad took me to see my first rated R movie in the theater (Face Off) and I had a birthday sleepover in which we didn't go to sleep until 8 AM.  Good time!).  Turning thirteen is associated with the end of childhood and the loss of freedom.  Plus, there are also a couple of older characters who describe their dislike of having aged.

And on that note, there are also some situations that present class and issues of loss and death that could trigger discussion.  Plus, there are a lot of references to the Sherlock Holmes books.

By the end, I was much more impressed with the book than I thought I would be.  I'm glad I stuck it out.

But having said that, I did have some trouble with the "mystery" aspect of the book.  Daniel is presented as a detective (I liked that), he does research and seeks out someone who may have information on how the Supers' powers are being stolen (also liked), he suspects someone for no particular reason (No!) and then someone kind of hands him the answers he needs (hated!).  Whether or not the information given to him is true remains to be seen, but I just felt like the mystery had already been pronounced dead, shipped off to the morgue and put in its coffin by then.  I think there were a number of red herrings that the author could have used to challenge Daniel and the reader more.

As to whether or not I will be picking up the sequel that will inevitably follow and was hinted at...well, if you have a prognosticating superpower, you can tell me.

Dinner Conversation:

"The wind howled in Michael's ears.  He would be picking bugs out of his hair for days, but he didn't care" (p. 1).

"As he took a step back, he realized that they were all pictures of the same thing, repeated over and over again: the boy soaring above the rooftops or over the mountains or through the clouds.  It was a little frightening.  Though he couldn't remember drawing them, they looked like his--they all had the same awkward hands that he could never get right.  And each one contained the same message written in his own messy scrawl:
You can fly" (pp. 4-5).

"Welcome to Noble's Green, Pennsylvania--The Safest Town on Earth!
The safest town on earth? thought Danile.  Couldn't sound lamer" (p. 11).

"No one keeps their powers past their thirteenth birthday."
"You mean you give up your powers?" asked Daniel.  "Just like that?"
"No, not exactly.  We don't give them up....  The truth is, we got these powers, and we also don't know how we lose them.  But when I wake up on my thirteenth birthday, I will be just like you, and with no memory of ever even having powers.  It all just disappears" (p. 52).

"You're the only one who can save us."
Daniel was stunned, and he was pretty sure that Mollie was crazy.  If the Supers of Noble's Green couldn't stop whatever was happening to them, what could he do?
"But how?  I'm nothing special."
"And that's why you're perfect" (p. 86).

"But the whole idea of being a superhero is not about any of that.  It's about being a better person.  And Johnny is an example that shows me what it is to be brave.  And I'm not even talking about having powers or being a Super or anything.  I'm just talking about being the best person that you can be, and that means not giving in to anger, or fear.  It's what keeps me going" (p. 173).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

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