TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
In some ways, Thom Creed is a typical teenager. He loves playing basketball. He has a part-time job as a dishwasher. He fights with his dad a lot. He volunteers time working with kids at a local community center. And he has a pretty fierce crush on one of his fellow tutors, a rival basketball player with piercing eyes named Goran. Interestingly, it's being gay that makes Thom so different from his peers — not the fact that he has a superhuman ability to heal people.
Set at some unnamed point in the near future, "Hero" is set in a world where superheroes regularly step in to rescue mere mortals from all manner of crime and evil. Thom's abilities, which are a bit random and out of control, attract the attention of the League, the official organization of superheroes. Thom is invited in for a tryout, and he soon becomes a probationary League member, assigned to a team of misfit heroes that includes a man with the power to infect others with disease (Typhoid Larry); a cranky, chain-smoking senior citizen with the ability to see the future (Ruth); and a bitter, sarcastic pizza delivery girl who can burst into flames (Scarlett).
The League is a source of national pride, so you would think Thom's dad Hal would be delighted at his inclusion in the group. The problem? Hal is a fallen superhero himself. As Major Might, his decision to sacrifice an office building to save the world from an invading alien resulted in thousands of deaths. Although Hal had no choice, the public blames him for the tragedy. In total disgrace, Hal has had to scrape by for years with warehouse work. Hal hates the League and would never allow Thom to join up. Father and son have such a strained, tense relationship to begin with — Thom lives in mortal fear that his dad will discover he's gay — that Thom hides his League involvement from Hal. As you might imagine, Hal eventually discovers both of Thom's secrets, although with results that may surprise you.
I actually liked this book, but I'll be the first to admit that it can be all over the place. The mash-up of sincere coming-of-age novel with comic-like action elements doesn't always work successfully, as there are sometimes jarring shifts in the tone of the story. But "Hero" is such an interesting novel packed with likeable, quirky characters that you'll probably be willing to forgive its failings. Author Perry Moore does a fantastic job of showing how Thom gradually learns to accept and explore his homosexuality, giving him plenty of obstacles and missteps along the way. Thom's relationship with the enigmatic Goran develops in a slow, believable fashion, and the contrast between the prejudices Thom faces and the joys of that first love are beautifully portrayed.
There are also plenty of scenes of superheroes flying, zapping, and otherwise fighting villains. These action sequences are so over the top that they feel like reading a comic book without the pictures. The various superheroes have talents ranging from gross to cool, and seeing Thom's team evolve as crime fighters is both sweet and fun. Lastly, Hal, Thom's dad, is one of the more complex parental figures I've seen in a teen novel in quite some time. It's a credit to the author that he makes a character who at first seems like a cold, bigoted bully develop into something so much more.
As I said, although flawed, this is a very entertaining, engrossing novel. There's probably enough here to appeal to both comic fans and teens who like more realistic, heartfelt stories. One word of caution — this is definitely a book for older teens. There is an abundance of harsh language (much more than necessary, in my opinion) and some very adult situations. The publisher recommends a target age of 13 and up, which seems about right to me.