Thursday, July 2

Dull Boy

by Sarah Cross
Dutton 2009

Alright, once again: what's the rule regarding words in the title of your book that can be used against you in a review?

Let me back down a bit here, lest the Blog Review Police accuse me of being snarky.

What we have here, in a nutshell, is... could it be a version of the X-Men movie? Avery has these superpowers that manifest themselves as he hits puberty. He's got super strength, he can fly, and he keeps it secret for fear of becoming an even greater outsider than adolescence would already push him toward. He's accidentally broken a friend's arm, and he's out cruising the streets looking for good deeds to do as a way of justifying his existence.

Then he spots some other outsiderish kids... could they be like him? There is talk about some Ice Queen, and just as quick as that he's off to save a granny in distress who turns out to be a lure that introduces him to Cherchette, a mysterious figure who can offer Avery the home, family. and understanding his superpowers require. Sort of like, you know, a school for New Mutants. Only not. But sort of.

But what Cherchette has planned is merely Phase Two of an operation to help the kids realize their full potential. Phase One, it appears, was her meddling with selected polio vaccinations that created these superhero kids in the first place. Some didn't survive, and some didn't develop their full potential, but the strong and favored Cherchette promises to increase their power manifold and bring them under her wing.

For good or for evil? And would the kids rather choose their own destinies rather than be sheltered from the rest of the world? And, in the end, don't they just want to you average dysfunctional teenage Justice League?

There is something appealing about the idea of having superpowers and wondering what you would do with them, but that very human idea is quickly lost in the Evil Mastermind plot that's been so flogged to death in comic book culture. Cross has a nice set of misfits here, each with their own unusual set of powers, but rather than having the kids sort out the world on their own – you know, like real kids, but with superpowers – the only way she can get them together is to find an external force to unify them. It might have been nice to see some otherwise normal kids try and navigate the usual teen anxieties without all the extraneous noise of a villain to do battle with.

It's also long, too long. I kept wanting to physically push the story along, literally try to find a way to shove the words forward. This book could have been half its 310 pages and not feel like it was missing anything. Perhaps that breakneck pacing would have prevented me from constantly feeling like I'd seen and heard it all before.

So, not exactly dull. But I really think securing the lid on superhero kid stories is overdue.
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