Author: Perry Moore
First sentence: “I never thought I’d have a story worth telling, at least not one about me.”
Summary (from Amazon)
“THE LAST THING IN THE WORLD Thom Creed wants is to add to his dad, Hal’s, pain, so he keeps secrets. Like that he has special powers. And that he’s been asked to join the League — the very organization of superheroes that spurned his father. The most painful secret of all is one Thom can barely face himself: he’s gay. But becoming a member of the League opens up a new world to Thom. There, he connects with a misfit group of aspiring heroes, including Scarlett, who can control fire but not her anger; Typhoid Larry, who can make anyone sick with his touch; and Ruth, a wise old broad who can see the future. Like Thom, these heroes have things to hide, but they will have to learn to trust one another when they uncover a deadly conspiracy within the League. To survive, Thom will face challenges he never imagined. To find happiness, he’ll have to come to terms with his father’s past and discover the kind of hero he really wants to be.”
Rating: 3.5 super powers
I’m not much for superheros or basketball. I’ll be honest that the only reason I picked up this book is because the protagonist is gay. And I like books about gay kids… obviously. There are a lot of things in this book that I like. A lot. And some things that made me want to tear my hair out. Which I’m going to explain totally unfiltered, because you came here to read what a feminist queer girl thinks so that’s what you’re gonna get.
More than anything else, I liked how realistic the teenage gay boy part of Thom’s experience is. Thom knows he’s gay when we meet him, which is a huge relief to me. Coming out stories are important, but it’s also nice to meet a character who just goes “yup, I’m gay, moving on” and doesn’t make a giant angsty thing out of it. Thom is cool with who he is. Instead, the conflict comes from how others react to him. His father, his teammates, his friends.
Realistically, they all have different reactions to his being gay. His coach finds an excuse to take him off the basketball team. The boy Thom flirts with goes out of his way to demonstrate that he’s straight- which we know he’s not because he’s been flirty back for weeks- and yes there is the romantic thread of the book. His superhero teammates are neither shocked nor appalled, his superhero team leader doesn’t seem to give any of the fucks. His father could have reacted better, but then he certainly could have reacted worse. Thom being gay is important to the story because it’s a huge part of who he is, but it doesn’t define Thom and it doesn’t define the story.
I also enjoy Moore’s strategy to just drop you into the world without explaining or defining anything. As we move through Thom’s days we learn that superpowers are real and superheros are celebrities. That Thom’s crush is the suave, good-looking hero, Uberman. That the seizures Thom has had since childhood are connected to a superpower he didn’t know he had (and it’s an interesting and awesome super power). The fact that Thom’s father is an ex-superhero isn’t extraordinary in and of itself, instead it is the tragic circumstances surrounding his retirement that are important and slowly revealed.
Thom’s relationship with his parents is at the heart of the story. It is complicated and messy, which makes it interesting and real. Thom must come to accept, as we all must, that his parents are human and fallible. That they had lives before him. That they make mistakes. That “some things you lose, you lose forever.” I can’t really talk much about Thom and his mother without giving away spoilers, but I loved the fact that the only relationship more messy than Thom and his father, was Thom and his mother. She tries to do the right thing, but that doesn’t make up for the past.
Moore also gives us pretty decent secondary characters. Ruth who sees the future and runs away from her past. Scarlett whose fiery temper is more than just metaphorical. Larry who literally makes people sick. They all have problems, complications in their lives caused by their powers. Everyone has shit to deal with and having powers doesn’t change that. Death is a very real threat, and even our heroes can’t avoid it. I won’t give it away, but make sure to have some tissues handy.
Through the superhero training and discovery of superpowers, Moore cedes in awkward romantic attempts, and the mundane struggle to get from one job to another without a car. The characters swear. They have sex. They fight. They make up. Everyone has their own agenda, just like life. It’s all heightened by the giant threat that must be stopped, and make no mistake the climax had me turning pages as fast as I could read, but its more about the people then the action, which I prefer.
That said, I had to dock it half a super power for a few specific things. Once too often Thom makes a comment like, “God, I was acting like such a girl,” and… like… dude really? Being or acting like a girl is not an insult– until just now when you made it one and that pisses me off. There is still way too much of this crap present in the world, so let’s keep it out of all books, and especially books that are supposed to celebrate diversity and inclusiveness, kay?
I give a point for Ruth’s ex-boyfriend being black, but take it away again for not having any main/secondary characters of color. We can have superheroes being normal, but not multi-cultural cities? Also- of course – the leaders of the League are men and their secretary is a woman. Because while it’s totally fine to accept the premise that some people fly and have laser vision and can turn invisible the idea that women could run a hero organization is just preposterous! This is where some people will roll their eyes at me and say that the leaders just happen to be male. Well… no. Captain Victory could have been totally genderswapped, but then Thom’s dad would have idolized a woman superhero and we just can’t have that. Just like when Thom’s parents got married it was not even an option to not have children because everyone on earth wants kids and, of course, his mother had to stay home. I know this is a common situation. I know. I get it. Lots of people want to have kids. It’s just that this sequence of events is always presented as if it’s inevitable and not one of many many option in life. And it pisses me off.
Scarlett, while not a terribly painted character, is still pretty one-dimensional. I was just talking to a friend who read this book a year or so ago and he couldn’t even remember that Scarlett had existed because she’s just not that memorable. Her bitchiness was used in such a trite way, as a defense shield and there could have been much more to it than that. Giving her a good reason to be a bitch is not the same as making her a complex person with varied feelings. I realize she was a secondary character, but it was such a lost opportunity. And yes, not every book can be everything to everyone but I’m tired of that excuse. I’m tired of constantly saying – well we can’t get into everyone’s head, we can’t unpack everyone’s life story – as an excuse to short change the female characters.
I’m tired of going, well the author is a dude and so he can’t really be expected to get inside the head of a girl and write her like a real person. Cut that shit out. Write women better. Write girls better. Just do it. So while being glad there was queerness and women who weren’t completely helpless I wanted more from Moore, and I won’t apologize for it.
So in summary – a totally worth it read. Fun and entertaining. But let’s all get better at writing girls, hmmmmm? And stop subtly putting them down.