Author: Perry Moore
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Superhero, Young Adult, LGBT literature
Publisher: Disney (Hyperion)
Publication Date: August 2007
Paperback: 432 pages
Thom Creed is used to being on his own. Even as a highschool basketball star, he has to keep his distance because of his father. Hal Creed had once been one of the greatest and most beloved superheroes of The League–until the Wilson Towers incident. After that Thom’s mother disappeared and his proud father became an outcast.
The last thing in the world Thom would ever want is to disappoint his father. So Thom keeps two secrets from him: First is that he’s gay. The second is that he has the power to heal people. Initially, Thom had trouble controlling his powers. But with trail and error he improves, until he gets so good that he catches the attention of the League and is asked to join. Even though he knows it would kill his dad, Thom can’t resist. When he joins the League, he meets a motely crew of other heroes, including tough-talking Scarlett, who has the power of fire from growing up near a nuclear power plant; Typhoid Larry, who makes everyone sick by touching them, but is actually a really sweet guy; and wise Ruth, who has the power to see the future. Together these unlikely heroes become friends and begin to uncover a plot to kill the superheroes.
Along the way, Thom falls in love, and discovers the difficult truth about his parents’ past. This is a moving, funny, and wonderfully original novel that shows that things are not always what they seem, and love can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: I have had Hero on my TBR for aaaaaaaaages. Originally, I planned on reading and reviewing it last year for YAAM (Young Adult Appreciation Month) as part of a YA superhero novel day – but just couldn’t squeeze it in the schedule. So, this week, when I found that I had a break in my reading schedule and could read ANYTHING I WANTED (OMG! This hardly ever happens!), Hero was the book I immediately picked up.
I am in love.
I am in love with Hero – with the brave, forthright narrator that is Thom Creed. With his physically and emotionally strong father, the downtrodden but ever-unbroken Hal Creed. With the mysterious Goran. With the moments of triumph, heartbreak, embarrassment, pain and pure joy. I am in love with this remarkable, rousing book.
Hero is truly heroic.
Thom Creed is a driven young man: avolunteer, a hard worker, a star basketball center, and a loyal son. During one heated basketball game, however, Thom develops a unique ability – he can heal things with his hands, as he does to Goran, the star player on the opposing team after he is flagrantly fouled by one of Thom’s teammates. Thom’s powers come at a cost, both physically and emotionally – physically, he goes into convulsions after straining his powers. Emotionally, his abilities weigh on Thom because he must hide his powers from his father – the formerly beloved (but fallen so far from grace) superhero Hall “Major Might” Creed. Years earlier, Hal’s failure at the WIlson Towers killed thousands and ended in Hal’s public disgrace and disbandment from the League (an official syndicate of superheroes), culminating in the law that non-superpowered heroes, like Thom’s father, could never again don a cowl and call themselves heroes. Ever since, Thom’s father has borne his public shunning with calm restraint and has tried to raise his son, even after his wife left Hal and Thom behind. Thom knows there’s one line that he cannot cross – no talk of superheroes, or of the League. Ever.
So when the League invites Thom to try out for the team and he actually makes it as a probationary member, he must guard that secret from his father. But that’s not the only secret Thom keeps from Hal – there’s one truth that he cannot bear to have revealed: Thom is gay. To Thom’s traditional, old-fashioned and opinionated father, an admission of Thom’s sexual orientation can only end in disappointment, revulsion, and pain.
But when Thom is the only one that can exonerate a wrongly accused person by declaring the truth to the world, he must decide what it truly means to be a superhero.
I don’t think I can sufficiently explain how much I loved this book. From the first page to its bittersweet ending, I found myself enthralled by Perry Moore’s breathtaking coming-of-age novel. The brunt of the story rests on Thom’s tried shoulders – self-aware, emotional, honest, flawed Thom. As our protagonist, Thom is a beautiful character that rouses and inspires as he struggles with self-perception, with his relationship with his family, with his standing as a hero, and his attempts to find a place in a world that seems to despise and revile him for being “different.” Hero broke my heart when I read along with Thom as he was ostracized and ridiculed for being gay – it’s a running joke here at TBS that Ana is the “emotional Smuggler” – but let me tell you, dear readers, I was emotional as hell reading this book. Hero runs the entire gamut of emotion through the father/son dynamic, struggling with truth and identity, finding and losing love, and living with regrets and making peace with the past. That’s not to say Hero is preachy or emotionally exploitative – because nothing could be farther from the truth. Hero hits all the right notes, painting Thom as a sympethic protagonist without patronizing or condescending, and the hardships Thom faces as a gay teen never feel contrived or melodramatic; Thom’s struggles range from humorous (one scene involving internet porn, for example) to touching (Thom’s first hookup), painful (Thom’s public declaration and his father’s reactions) to triumphant (well, I’ll leave that unspoiled for now). Mr. Moore writes a truly heroic character in Thom, and I found myself moved to the point of tears following this inspiring young protagonist.
While Mr. Moore captures Thom’s struggles within and with the outside world perfectly, he also creates a compelling, complicated relationship between a father and his son. Just as Thom is an inspired protagonist, Hal “Major Might” Creed is also one hell of a character. He’s not a perfect dad by any stretch of the imagination as he’s deeply hurt by his public failure and his wife leaving him. His relationship with his only son, the only family he has left in the world with Thom is a complicated one, filled with its soaring highs and crushing lows. And yet, despite Hal’s old fashioned beliefs, he’s first and foremost Thom’s dad. I loved that Mr. Moore does not write simplistic two-dimensional characters – he includes the good, the bad, and the ugly in this father-son relationship especially, creating an almost unfathomably awesome reading experience.
And these are just two characters that I’ve touched on! Suffice to say that every character in Hero is brilliant in his or her own way, just as every scene written into this book is necessary and integral to the story. There is no wasted space, no repetitive filler in Hero, and I could probably go on forever about each of these characters, so I’ll just mention my favorites: the mysterious Goran and his role in Thom’s life. Justice’s calm understanding of Thom’s outsider-status and his own tangled past with the Creed family. The League’s members – Uberman (object of Thom’s fantasies) and Warrior Woman, in particular. Thom’s teammates – the lovably crass, clairvoyant Ruth, the curmudgeonly Scarlett and her own dark secret, the snidely condescending Golden Boy, the sadly isolated Typhoid Larry.
In terms of writing, the plotting for Hero is similarly superb. Hero is very much a coming-of-age story, but it’s also filled with dark secrets, revelations about his past and his family, and – of course – a central conflict culminating in a battle sequence on an epic scale. Deftly plotted, cinematic in its execution, Hero‘s story rocks, plain and simple. And the action! While the draw to the book is the emotional and character driven story, the action sequences don’t hurt any. Mr. Moore’s writing is never lengthy nor awkward, zipping this story along and tying everything together in a cohesive, tight package.
Finally, how can I review a superhero book without addressing the world-building element? Mr. Moore creates an entirely new universe with Hero, taking a world similar to our own but injecting superheroes into every day life. It’s worth pointing out that Thom’s world is not one that is versed with our own DC/Marvel heroes (i.e. there are no awkward “Captain Victory was just like Clark Kent with his disguises!” sort of drops), and I dig that. That said, the superheroes in Hero are familiar (in an homage/poking fun kind of wa) – for example, Warrior Woman bears the obvious resemblance to a certain Amazon Princess from Themyscira, Justice is an intriguing blend between Superman and Martian Manhunter, the League of superheroes itself is very much a new version of the JLA. It’s clear that Mr. Moore is an avid comic book fan, and Hero encompasses themes from some of the great work out there – a bit X-Men, a bit Watchmen (especially in the case of Thom’s father), and even a bit of Mark Waid’s Kingdom Come (and Irredeemable). But that’s not to say that Hero is a poor copy-cat or rip-off (as was my impression with The Iron King recently). Rather, Hero uses these foundations and builds something completely new, beautiful, strange and unforgettable. It has earned its place in the comic book canon.
I cannot think of a thing wrong with this book. It is brilliant, beautiful, from beginning to end. I laughed, I cringed, I cried. Hero made me fall in love with reading all over again – but more than that, it inspired me, as I’m sure it will inspire countless teens and readers. Recommended for everyone.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
I NEVER THOUGHT I’d have a story worth telling, at least not one about me. I always knew I was different, but until I discovered I had my own story, I never thought I was anything special. My destiny began to unfurl during my very last game at school. What started with an accident on the court ended with the single most devastating look I ever got from my father. And it made me want to die.
At the game, I’d scored twenty-two points, which already topped my personal best by a basket, and I showed no signs of slowing down. Every time I sank the ball, I could hear a lone deep voice begin to cheer a full second before the rest of the bleachers chimed in. Dad’s voice was hoarse from screaming, but I could still tell it was him, because no one else there would bother to remind me to follow my shot or get my hands up for defense.
I ran down to the other end of the court and posted up under the basket, and I caught him out of the corner of my eye. He was sitting in the remote upper lip of the bleachers, in his usual spot, away from everyone else. The crowd was sparse up there, which he said gave more room for a man of his considerable size to spread out, stand every few minutes, and stretch his back. The truth was that the extra room also made it harder to tell that people were uncomfortable sitting close to him.
I was surprised to see a young couple sitting near him that night. The husband would occasionally turn around to agree with my dad on a call or congratulate him when I made a shot. They were probably parents of one of the freshmen on the team. Didn’t recognize my father yet.
But I got the feeling they found something about him familiar. Like someone they’d seen on TV, in a movie, a local politician, or someone vaguely famous. They would have recognized him right away if he’d been wearing his mask. My guess is he’d probably saved their lives at some point. Dad always ran into people whose lives he’d saved. I could tell because his left jaw would clench, just a smidge, a bicuspid ground
into a molar—a telltale sign that he was either going to be ignored, maligned, or dismissed by someone who was only still breathing by the good graces of my father’s actions. He never wanted me to see it, but kids aren’t stupid. Even if Dad had ever possessed superpowers, invulnerability wouldn’t have protected him from the shame of having people look down on him in front of his own son.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: A few things. Firstly, in addition to being an amazing novelist, Perry Moore also is a hotshot Hollywood type – best known for his involvement in the Chronicles of Narnia films. As an openly gay man producing one a staunchly Christian series of books to film, I cannot express how freaking awesome I think this is. You can read more about Perry Moore, including a great interview with the author, on his website.
Also of interest on Mr. Moore’s website is a list – a primer, if you will – of gay characters in comics, and how they have been treated over the years. From “WHO CARES ABOUT THE DEATH OF A GAY SUPERHERO ANYWAY?:
A HISTORY OF GAYS IN COMIC BOOKS”:
In 1999, comic book writer Gail Simone compiled a notable list of female comic book characters who had been injured, killed, or de-powered in various superhero comics. The article, “Head In A Refrigerator,” made waves, and fans encouraged the comic book industry to change their treatment of women in the medium. The result has been positive, as the ever-increasingly popular world of comic books and graphic novels have yielded some of the most powerful and respected female heroes in literature since the list’s publication.
The following list is a similar catalogue of the treatment of gays in the medium. The goal is to facilitate discussion and awareness, that fans expect and deserve better treatment of lesbian, gay, and transgendered characters. The very fabric of our society is defined by whom we choose to venerate as our heroes. Things are beginning to change, but for every step forward – and there are some very good ones — the comic book world has taken some giant leaps back. Most gay characters, even in their small numbers, still remain primarily as villains, minor characters, and victims who are tortured, maimed and killed. Is this a fair representation of LGBT characters in the medium? That is left for you to decide. Yes, bad things do happen to all people, gay people included. But are there positive representations of gay characters to counterbalance these negative ones? Who cares about the death of a gay superhero anyway?
It’s an eye-opening piece, and I wholeheartedly recommend everyone go forth and check it out.
(After you read that, if you can stomach it, go forth and read about the kerfluffle in which Mark Millar responds rather disingeniously to Perry Moore’s outrage at the death of Northstar at Wolverine’s hands in 2005)
Verdict: Hero is, in this reader’s opinion, a perfect book in every way. Rousing, heartening and inspiring, Thom’s journey is one that is applicable to everyone. I cannot recommend this book enough – and it’s easily at the top of my list of favorite books read in 2010.
Rating: 10 – Perfection
Reading Next: Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon