by Perry Moore
Reviewed by Sarah Miller
Complex emotional themes and fast-paced action sequences lay the base for Perry Moore's debut novel, Hero. Set in what can be best described as a vibrant modern-day comic, Moore's fantastical universe is filled with heroes, villains, and of course, The League, the ultimate band of world saviors. Moore, executive producer of the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is no stranger to emotional complexities and imaginative settings, and his success is proven throughout this novel.
The story follows Thom Creed, a teenage boy on the cusp of manhood. The mysterious disappearance of his mother leaves Thom with his father, Hal, and like most teenagers, Thom holds the deepest desire to please his father while staying true to himself. The rub is that Thom must keep two of his deepest secrets from his father: his emerging "powers" and his internal struggle with his sexuality.
Hal, once known as "Major Might" -- arguably the best superhero in the world and the best on the League -- was the rare superhero who has no extraordinary powers; like Batman, he relied on his intellect and strength for success. But a mystery surrounds Hal's past, as he was shamed by the League, forced to retire, and frowned upon by society, for reasons the reader has yet to discover. Thom grows up with the stares from strangers, hearing the sarcastic remarks and hushed rumors spat behind his father's back. For these reasons, he's shocked when the League asks him, Thom Creed, son of a disgraced League Hero, to try out for their association. He ultimately decides to hide his status as a probationary superhero from his father, knowing that a far more difficult secret is kept within him.
This secret is the one Thom believes will shame his father far more than the League's invitation. "These people will never have a normal life," Hal remarks to Thom, solidifying fears of disappointment if his father were to find out he's gay. Moore masters his characters' multifaceted dimensions, penning Thom's feelings thoughtfully, thoroughly, and realistically as his sexuality develops within the story line.
Atticus Finch, protagonist of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, states it best, saying: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view -- until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." Moore's success is how he brings Thom's character to life, capturing the knowledge and the growing difficulties of a struggling gay teen, who wants to make his father proud while simultaneously keeping secrets.
It is refreshing to read young adult literature that encompasses themes of homosexuality without using it as the focal point of the book. Though I must admit my knowledge of LGBT literature tends to focus on the lesbian community (Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters, Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden, just to name a few), reading a novel that weaves several themes creates a three-dimensional perspective to a topic many may view as one-dimensional. Thom Creed is struggling with his identity and emerging sexuality, but he's also emotionally struggling with the disappearance of his mother, the need for acceptance from his father, and his desire to prove himself to the world regardless of the label placed on him. With his gay superhero, Moore executes a character we can all relate to -- we've all gone through the angst and challenges of being a teenager. Perhaps this is why the Lambda Literary Foundation, "the country's leading organization for LGBT literature," awarded Hero best LGBT children's/young adult book in 2008. (Something to note: Keeping You a Secret was a Lambda winner in 2003.)
Of course, Hero wouldn't live up to its comic book name if not for the fast-paced action sequences. The motley Probationary Heroes Thom comes to know at his tryouts bring humor and life to the heavy emotional themes landscaping the novel. Typhoid Larry, who can make people sick with various hilarious diseases, and Ruth, who can see into the future, allowing her to sit on the sidelines smoking cigarettes during fights because she knows the outcome, bring a level of humor and lightheartedness to a poignant and complex novel.