March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Superheroes and Villians Star in New Middle Grade Fiction

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Heart-pounding suspense, action-packed plotlines, and characters with mind-boggling powers are the hallmarks of these captivating reads that feature masked avengers and caped crusaders facing off against villainous rivals.

Bell, Sophie. Power to the Purple! Bk. 2. illus. by Ethen Beavers. 336p. (The Ultra Violets Series). Penguin/Razorbill. 2013. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781595146472.

Gr 4-6 –This second installment in the “Ultra Violets” series is a fun adventure starring Iris, Cheri, and Scarlet, best friends who have been transformed into superheroes with powers that include dance expertise and math genius. Readers would benefit from being familiar with the first title in the series, as their origin story isn’t explained clearly at the beginning of this title. Illustrations throughout keep the book from feeling dull and help break up the narrative–at 336 pages it is fairly long for the reading level and age of the intended audience. The text throughout is peppy and youthful, though in some cases the pop-culture references might be out of touch for today’s average 10-to-12-year-olds: Bell refers to the Beastie Boys and Jay Z’s 1999 song, “Hard Knock Life.” Bell has used language in a clever way–occasionally explaining unusual vocabulary words while sometimes misusing or making up words for comedic effect. Keeping their super skills secret, explaining what is taking up so much of their time to their parents, and combating their former best friend and current nemesis Opaline keep the characters busy. Overall, this is a good title for middle grade readers and will have no problem finding its audience.–Liz Zylstra, County of Prince Edward Public Library, Picton, Ontario

Jensen, Marion. Almost Super. 256p. ebook available. HarperCollins. Feb. 2014. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780062209610.

Gr 4-6 –This superhero story is really about growing up, making choices, and figuring out the world. The Bailey family knows their purpose in life is to fight supervillains like the Johnson family. The Johnson family just happens to think that they are the true superheroes and that the Baileys are the real evil villains. Rafter Bailey cannot wait until the day he gets his superpower. When that day comes, however, the power he gets is less than super and he must learn to live with his disappointment. Although the book is not necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, Jensen employs a clever tongue-in-cheek humor throughout. Readers will identify with the way in which Rafter is treated like a kid instead of a full-fledged member of the superfamily and will enjoy seeing Rafter and his friends outsmart the grown-ups. The short chapters and action packed sequences keep the pages turning. Reluctant readers and fans of the Pixar movie The Incredibles will be excited to find out what happens in the sequel.–Carrie Shaurette, Dwight-Englewood School, Englewood, NJ

Kraatz, Jeramey. Villains Rising. Bk. 2. 311p. (The Cloak Society Series). ebook available. HarperCollins. 2013. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062095503. LC 2012040343.

Gr 5-8 –The battle for control over Sterling City has ended and the evil Cloak Society has won. Most of the good-guy Rangers of Justice have been trapped in the Gloom, an alternate dimension. The City’s only remaining super-powered protectors are seven teenagers: three young Rangers and four former Cloak members who traded villany for heroism. Struggling to regroup, the teens must learn to work together despite their past differences and rescue the trapped Rangers. Adding to the group’s trust issues are two new superpowered teens who want to join the team but whose true motives are suspect. Kraatz does a good job keeping readers guessing who may betray the heroes. Favorite characters from the first book return including telekinetic Alex, shape-shifter Kirbie, and tech genius Gabe. Kraatz continues to please readers who love comic book action with high-tech gadgets, fierce battles, and characters boasting an inventive arsenal of super abilities. Fans of the first installment will enjoy the continuing adventure and eagerly await the next in the series.–Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY

Long, Christopher E. Hero Worship. 264p. ebook available. Flux. 2014. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9780738739090.

Gr 8 Up –In a future filled with superheroes, there are two classes: the elite members of the Core, whose powers are “clean,” and the likes of Marvin and his friends, whose powers are “dirty” and therefore do not warrant official recognition by the Core. Marvin’s power feeds on fear; he taps into the emotion of those around him and gains super strength. He’s able to save a family being held at knifepoint by a gang of teens, but has to disappear afterward so that he is not recognized. The teen soon meets Eliza, a Core member whose alter ego is a superhero named Roisin. Marvin is starstruck and flattered that the great Roisin takes an interest in him. She even encourages him to try out for Core membership. This is a debut YA novel for Long, who writes for Marvel, DC, and Image comics. The writing is better suited to comics than traditional stories: the characters and situations feel a bit one-dimensional, situations often lack explanation and fleshing out, and the plot lags in a few spots. The main characters are not likable: Marvin is a worrier and Eliza is nasty. In one particularly disturbing scene, Eliza physically forces herself upon Marvin, coercing him into non-consensual sex. The protagonist moves on with little reaction and Eliza’s motivation is not explored. Kids who get to the last 50 pages of the book will be rewarded when the pace picks up; Marvin comes into his own, and the plotlines start to make sense and build to a relatively satisfying conclusion.–Amy Cheney, Alameda County Library, San Leandro, CA

Vincent, Bruno. School for Villains. illus. by Jo Coates. 314p. Macmillan. 2013. pap. $8.99. ISBN 9780330479530.

Gr 5-8 –Below the dank and dangerous town of Tumblewater is an even more repugnant community of sewers and mud, where the citizens of this small borough have fled from the loathsome Caspian Prye. Daniel Dorey, the young storyteller from the author’s Grisly Tales from Tumblewater (Macmillan, 2010), is not only searching for his kidnapped sister, but is also being hunted by the heinous Caspian, his villainous police force, and a robotic assistant. Daniel’s only clue, left by the witch who hid his sister away, is a mysterious and ancient key. To his dismay, Daniel is sent by “Uncle”, the guardian of the underground, to the School for Villains, where he is to learn the fine arts of knife-fighting, lock-picking, thievery, and surgery (practiced on fresh corpses). The cast of characters that Daniel encounters, both above and below ground, is beyond strange; they include an eccentric recluse who lives in a most unusual tower and who can eavesdrop on anyone in the town, and the young boy ghosts who inhabit abandoned houses. As he tries to discover the significance of the key and how it is connected to his sister’s disappearance, Daniel collects several ghastly and grisly tales, which are told to him (and to readers) between chapters. These tales are not for the faint-hearted, and often involve gruesome deaths, murders, and lots of blood. While the various threads and characters all come together a bit too neatly in the end, readers who enjoy being repulsed and frightened will devour this macabre tale.–MaryAnn Karre, West Middle School, Binghamton, NY