Book Review

Hero by Perry Moore, A Guest Review by CarrieS

B+

Title: Hero
Author: Perry Moore
Publication Info: Hyperion 2009
ISBN: 978-1423101963
Genre: Young Adult

Hero: The title is written on a tshirt. The model is yanking his buttondown shirt open a la Superman to reveal the titleY’all know I can’t resist a geek/romance crossover, so I had to check out Hero, a YA novel about a gay teen superhero that involves a love story.  It was solidly written, painful, and touching, and although I haven’t the foggiest idea of what it’s like to be a gay teen it had the feel of honesty to it.  However, it wasn’t very much fun.  That’s not surprising, because it deals with some very painful topics.  Not every love story or superhero story has to be fun.  Personally, though, I want my romance to have some joy, and I want even my darkest superheroes to get at least a few moments to revel in their powers (or, in Batman’s case, their “wonderful toys”).  I can’t fault the craft or content of Hero, but I found it strangely easy to put down. 

Here’s the deal.  Thom (Thom?  Really?  Is anyone named Thom?  Commentators, please advise!) is a high school basketball player who volunteers with underprivileged kids in his spare time.  His mom left when he was a young child and he has no contact with her.  He’s raised by his Dad.  Even though Thom is a nice guy, he is unpopular because his Dad is the retired superhero Major Might, who was involved in some kind of altercation that killed thousands of people, and even though the situation is murky, and Major Might may have actually saved the planet, he is reviled for the deaths of those involved.  Thom is also unpopular because he is suspected of being gay, which, in fact, he is.  Because Thom worships and depends on his father, and his father is homophobic, Thom must conceal his identity as a gay young man at all costs.  Thom’s life becomes more complicated when he finds out that he has super powers and is recruited by The League, a team of superheroes.  Because of his father’s experiences as Major Might, Thom is forbidden to follow the careers of or express any interest in superheroes, so now he must conceal his identity as a superhero-in-training from his father at all costs.  It’s all very allegorical.

Thom’s growth involves two elements – his bonding with his fellow rookie superheroes, and his growing attraction to Goran, a fellow volunteer and rival basketball player.  Goran was one of my favorite characters even though he is somewhat sketchily drawn.  Everything is told from Thom’s point of view (it’s all first person narration), and Goran is a mystery to Thom, so he is mostly a mystery to the reader, as well.  The fellow teammates are equally mysterious at first but gradually Thom gets to know them and figures out how to work with them effectively.  This is impressive, as they are almost universally Blessed With Suck, especially Typhoid Larry, who’s superpower is making people sick, and Scarlett (for reasons that are not immediately clear to the reader). The other important element is Thom’s rivalry, then friendship with, and attraction toward, Goran.  I think it would be safe to say that Hero “contains strong romantic elements”, but I wouldn’t call it a romance novel even though I like the love story.  In a romance, the love story is the point of the book, the most central element.  All that plot exists so that the romance can happen, although if it’s well written that feels natural and not contrived.  In Hero, the love story exists as a device to move the self-actualization of the hero forward.  Since his biggest challenge is coming out as gay, it makes sense that part of his story would be a romance, but the point of the book isn’t “will Goran and Thom find true love”, so much as it’s “will Thom find a place in the world as a gay teen superhero?”  This is not a criticism, just an observation so the reader knows what to expect.

There are a lot of great things about this book.  The characters are well drawn and complex and believable, and I cared about all of them (OK – most of them – there were several whom I couldn’t stand, but I wasn’t supposed to).  Their powers are imaginatively horrible to possess and I enjoyed watching this team of low-level heroes learn to work together to maximize their strengths.  I absolutely believed in the conflict between Thom and his father, and I never doubted that Thom’s father loved him deeply despite the father’s many flaws.  I also thought the romance was handled plausibly, being tender and tentative and not promising a sweeping HEA.  The writing was lovely, the descriptions clear, and the plot twists were nice and twisty.

The bad – I just didn’t enjoy spending a lot of time with this story.  The problem wasn’t as simple as the story being painful, because I’ve read lots of painful books and found them gripping and touching and felt like a richer person to have read them, even if “enjoy” may be too lighthearted a word for the experience.  With this book I was sort of soldiering through and looking forward to reading the next thing on my TBR pile.  I also didn’t feel like the story gave me any new insight into anything.  When I started reading the book I figured being the gay son of a homophobic father was probably scary and painful.  When I finished the book, I had learned that being the gay son of a homophobic father is scary and painful.  The superhero stuff is supposed to give a new angle to the coming out story, but all it does is give it more explosions (well, that and the enjoyment of Typhoid Larry sneezing on everyone, which really was awesome).

Hero was published in the same year as the excellent book, Soon I will be Invincible, by Austin Grossman, and the two books share a common tone and interest in the ways superheroes would act if they were real, flawed people rooted in a real world.  It has even more in common with the more recent release, After the Golden Age, by Carrie Vaughn, which also deals with an angry, super-powered father and an alienated teen (in this case, a daughter, who at the start of the book is in her twenties and dealing with the repercussions of her rebellious teen years).  However, the book I was really reminded of was Bitter Melon, by Cara Chow.  Bitter Melon was a Sizzling Book Club read which many readers, including SB Sarah, loved, and that I admired but didn’t really enjoy. Like Hero, it contained a love story that served to encourage the teenager’s rebellion against a controlling parent.  The love story was not central to the heroine’s journey but it furthered her sense of self-discovery.  My guess is that anyone who loved Bitter Melon will love Hero.  The superhero stuff is just a device to tell a story of self-actualization, and the love story is a step in the hero’s development, not the pivotal aspect to the book.  I am giving Hero a B+ based on the fact that it didn’t grip me to the degree that I require for an ‘A’ grade, but I’m sure many readers would give it an ‘A+’ due to it’s fine quality of writing, realistic and interesting characters, and frank discussion of tough topics.


This book is available from Amazon | BN | Book Depository {I could find no digital version available.]

Comments are Closed

  1. 1

    The whole gay teenage superhero thing is now almost cliché, but it was fresh when Moore (RIP) produced this book. I enjoyed it, though it could have been done better. (Sky High did it better and I kept wishing Moore’s gay theme had been included in that movie.)

    i feel so sad thinking about this book because Moore showed so much promise – and according to Wikipedia, “In 2008, Moore was in talks with veteran comic book writer Stan Lee about producing a television series based on the book.[20] Moore began writing a sequel to Hero in 2009.[3][21] Moore’s father said that in early 2011 his son was working on turning Hero into a movie on the Starz cable television channel.” But in Feburary, 2011 Moore died, possibly of an accidental overdose of painkillers, so we’ll never see what else he could have done with the characters of Hero, nor what other gay YA he might have written.

    A sad loss, indeed. Hero isn’t perfect but as first novels go, it’s pretty good. THere are worse memorials to have.

  2. 2
    Kismet says:

    I know someone with the last name Thome (pronounced Tom… not tow-may like the baseball player ;) )

  3. 3
    darlynne says:

    … will Thom find a place in the world as a gay teen superhero?

    This is why the book worked for me. My satisfaction at the end was quite strong, enough so that it’s what I took away from the reading experience. I didn’t realize Moore had died and am saddened that the world will never see what else he might have done.

  4. 4
    Dayle says:

    I have a friend named Thom. I believe he’s in his late 30s.

    OTOH, I have 1002 FB friends right now, and he’s the only Thom.

  5. 5
    Youji says:

    …I loved this book, but I wouldn’t ever dream of calling it a romance novel so I’m a bit baffled as to why it’s being reviewed here. Still, if this gets more people to read it, that’s awesome!

    I was really sad when I heard about Moore’s passing. Hero was a great first novel and a sequel would have been amazing.

  6. 6
    Overquoted says:

    Thom Yorke of Radiohead?

  7. 7
    kathybaug says:

    There’s a sports announcer named Thom Brennaman.  He has worked at Fox sports and has announced games for baseball divisional series and college football bowl games.  He is also the son of Marty Brennaman, long-time announcer for the Cincinnati Reds

  8. 8
    Alpha Lyra says:

    I know a Thom who writes humorous urban fantasy novels.

  9. 9
    BethC says:

    Thom Filicia, the interior designer from Queer Eye for the Straight Guyhttp://www.imdb.com/name/nm1389334/

  10. 10
    Rebecca says:

    Sounds like an interesting book.  I have a Dutch friend named Thom (I always assumed the name was relatively common in Holland), and I actually know a Goran too.  So the lead couple’s names have two positive associations for me.  Maybe I’ll check this one out…

  11. 11
    CarrieS says:

    I had no idea there were so many Thoms – where have I been?  And I had no idea that Perry Moore had passed away – I am so sad, as I would have loved to have watched a series based on Hero.  Narnia movies fans probably already know that Perry Moore was Exec. Producer of the Narnia movies.  Apparently he wasn’t writing more novels because he was busy being a huge player in the movie industry.  We will miss you Perry!

    @Youji: you are so right, Hero is totally not a romance novel.  Because a lot of sci-fi/fantasy/romance fans read a lot of crossover, SB Sarah graciously allows me to review some stuff with strong romantic elements that is not actually romance.  I like to think I’m doing investigative reporting for all you cross-over fans to find out just how romantic some of these cross-over books with a lot of romance hype really are!

  12. 12
    Turophile says:

    I also know a Thom who is a lobbyist.

  13. 13
    CarrieS says:

    A million thanks to Sarah for ridding this thread of the dreaded spam monsters! 

    If anyone wants to further explore the topic of gay superheroes, apparently Perry Moore wrote a very influential (also graphic and depressing) essay on gay superheroes in comics which can be found on his website, perrymorrestories.com.  I tried to post about it earlier but while spam reigned supreme my posts were blocked.  Perry, you aren’t haunting me for not giving you an “A”, are you?  How can I avenge your angry spirit?

    My next review will surely be all about sparkly magic kittens with no depressing subtext whatsoever!  and no spam!

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