Book Review

How to Date a Superhero (And Not Die Trying) by Cristina Fernandez

How to Date a Superhero (And Not Die Trying) is a surprisingly intense book about a young woman’s efforts not only to survive dating a superhero, but also her efforts to overcome the trauma that she experienced as collateral damage in a fight between a different superhero and a supervillain. Even though the story revolves around Astrid’s love for her superhero boyfriend, Max, it’s not a romance so much as it’s an exploration of trauma, love, and life choices.

In high school, Astrid almost died, caught in the middle of a battle between supers. Now, gifted with a perfect sense of time, she meticulously schedules her days so that no precious time will be wasted. A busy pre-med student, she always schedules some time every week for her roommate, David, and her boyfriend, Max. When Max reveals himself to be a superhero, Astrid is instructed to complete a course on how to survive as a superhero’s significant other.

Increasingly stressed with a schedule that includes a double major in BioChem and BioPhysics, plus volunteer work, plus a highly coveted position as research assistant at the university lab (a position that someone keeps sabotaging), plus the bare minimum of a personal life, Astrid is already constantly on the verge of an anxiety attack. How is she supposed to fit in an extra, off campus, secret class on surviving her relationship with Max? And as she grows increasingly aware of the dangers of dating a super, should she even try to keep her relationship alive?

Although this book revolves so much around Astrid’s relationship with Max, and that relationship is a lovely one, the real crux of the book is more about Astrid’s relationship with herself than with anyone or anything else. Even though this book contains a great deal of sardonic, snarky, and occasionally slapstick humor, I found it both painful and satisfying to take this emotional journey with Astrid and I’m so proud of the choices she makes and the person she is by the end of the book.

I also loved the supporting characters and the sometimes surprising emotional beats that occur with them. I felt that best friend David was not given enough to do and was somewhat wasted, which was too bad as he brings much needed levity to Astrid’s deadpan snarky approach to life, but I adored the classmates in her survival class, most of whom are teens that are thrilled to be hanging out with an actual college student.

Astrid masks her anxiety by projecting so much calm control, by being so high achieving, and by being so perfectly organized, that it took me a minute to realize how scared she is, and I just wanted to hug her. Even though my coping skills, not to mention everything else about my life, are very different from Astrid’s, I felt her so much. Her character is complex and revealed to the reader gradually, but I felt emotionally attached to her right away (I too have an obsession with my daily planner). The more she muted her emotions, the more I felt them. Honestly, Astrid’s stress practically vibrates off the page and my own anxiety vibrated right along with her. This is a powerful book about healing, and it’s very sweet and often very funny, but as someone with my own anxiety issues I did not always find it to be easy to read.

The things that bothered me about this book are spoilers, so I’ll put them in spoiler tags. Suffice to say that Astrid’s situation is sufficiently complicated that it’s hard to know what the right choices are in certain instances, and I wasn’t always certain that she was making the right choice. If you want to know the details here they are:

mild plot spoiler

Astrid neither tells David that Max is a superhero nor talks Max into telling him himself. David is a good friend and he knows he’s being lied to constantly which is hurtful and I’m angry that neither Astrid nor Max spilled the beans, although at the end of the book they are planning to soon.


super giant huge plot spoiler

Astrid briefly breaks up with Max, and she makes such a good case for herself of why she’s doing it that when they got back together I wasn’t sure it was the right long term decision, even though it’s very clear that they love each other.

This was stressful for me as a reader but also a sign of good writing – instead of the whole issue being a no-brainer it’s a truly complex choice with a lot of pros and cons on both sides of the equation.

A lot of readers will focus on the humor in this story and may find it to be fun. For me, it wasn’t fun (although it was funny) but it was intensely moving. I loved the characters and their relationships, I loved the world, and I felt that the scenes set in Astrid’s dorm room were spot on. I loved that it asked tough questions and that it arrived at a generally positive sense of the world. The only things holding this book back for me are some decisions involving David’s character and some ambivalence I feel about the ending. I’m holding this book to an unusually tough standard because I think it earns that kind of scrutiny given its overall excellence. Of all the books I’ve read that deconstruct superhero stories, and I’ve read a lot, this is my favorite to date. All hail Astrid and her color-coded planner!

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How to Date a Superhero (And Not Die Trying) by Cristina Fernandez

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  1. omphale says:

    This sounds very intense! I really enjoyed Hench, so I’ve put this on the wish list, but it may be one of those ones where I need to be in the right space to pick up.

    Also, the author’s name is spelled “Cristina” (no h). Nitpick, I know, but as the spelling is an ethnic variation (as opposed to Hil/lary or Al/li/yson) I figured it was worth pointing out for correction.

  2. SB Sarah says:

    @omphale: Whoops! Thank you for the correction! I’ve updated the title and the record.

  3. Jazzlet says:

    Did Daniel morph into David in the mild spoiler and the rest of the review?

  4. SB Sarah says:

    Egads. My editorial prowess is ON FIRE today. Or the opposite of that.

  5. DonnaMarie says:

    I do love a good superhero story. The focus on the damage caused to innocent bystanders in theme I hope to see more of. It isn’t often addressed in actual superhero comics. Looking forward to this

  6. Nicole says:

    Placed it on hold at my library! I love a superhero exploration book. The idea of there being a class about dating a superhero and not dying sounds like it’s in conversation with The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherine Valente.

  7. Kris Bock says:

    And unrelated but very cute graphic novel called Love And Capes focuses on the superheroe’s relationship with his regular girlfriend the more than on any superhero stuff. I got it through Hoopla.

  8. Lisa F says:

    This sounds fun!

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