This children’s novel, almost appropriate for pre-teens and early teens (more on that later), is two stories woven into one. The better story that should have been the focus of the book, is about a club of pre-teens in which each has a superpower that s/he is trying to come to grips with. These kids are also learning to navigate the more complicated landscape of early-dating, puberty, school, fears and bullying. This is a well established fantasy trope with the superpowers making a wonderful metaphor for the physical and social changes that occur at this point in the kids’ lives. The ultimate theme for the book would have been learning to accept one’s individuality and strengths. It also delivers a decent message about the importance of over-coming bullying, not just for oneself but for everyone.
Unfortunately, this is treated as the lesser of the two stories. Also, the novel thinks that it is a work of science fiction and not fantasy, but the science is so very misguided and yet authoritative that I would NOT recommend this for kids because of the disinformation that it is spreading. The ultimate problem is in the choice of narrator, Dr. Lucas McKenna. I liked the character for the first chapter in which he proves himself to be a folksy doddering, old fool of a scientist and businessman. He sees himself as a beyond-brilliant scientist on the verge of a Nobel Prize. The book also wants him to be regarded as the latter . . . oops. This “brilliant scientist” authoritatively mis-identifies a frog as a reptile [which is no small mistake] and believes in and espouses spontaneous evolution across an entire species rather than the actual, accepted notion of natural selection. The narrator also misuses the term “theory” to mean “hypothesis;” this is a gaffe made by non-scientists, not credible Nobel Laureates. The biggest skewing is in the explanation of “brain science.”
Fantasy does not need the “science” to make sense even when a story includes a scientist as they so often do: The Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Superman, the X-Men, The Hulk, Captain America etc. All of these heroes with special abilities have back-stories that involve a transformation or emergence with a very loose science-y explanation. However, they do not get so caught up in their false-science that they take on an authoritative tone. One would not walk away from one of these stories thinking that they had just learned something scientific in the process. It is not speculative-science that they rely on, but rather magic-science, ie fantasy-science, ie NOT science. Alpha Gene thinks it is espousing science as it simultaneously mangles it beyond recognition.
I would have thought better of this book without the Dr. McKenna character. His story which is supposed to take the front seat could have been included without his mentor-teacher character. As a secondary story-line beneath the pre-teens learning about their bodies and dealing with bullies themes, there could have been a thread following “evil” scientists wanting to “study” these good, wholesome kids-come-superheroes. There are many reasons to not trust this narrator [not that trusting a narrator is required, but this book wants you to trust him and his judgment]. 1) He’s established as a doddering fool in the first chapter. 2) He is present in less than 10% of the scenes. Yet, he even tells back-stories about kids that take place elsewhere. I cannot imagine for a second that these kids or their parents would have told him this much. 3) His folksy generalizations about all people did not ring true. [“The boy didn’t have any fond memories of the place–of course, no one does when it comes to cemeteries.” Well, I’m someone, and I have good cemetery memories.]
I was excited to read this book based on the advertising blurb. And I was doubly excited to receive a free, autographed copy through Goodreads’ First Reads. That’s where the excitement ended. I do not recommend this book.
[Check out my other reviews here.]