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High School Heroes

by James Mascia

Published by L&L Dreamspell

Print edition available 2010

Reviewed by Dale Arnold
Review posted 10/10/10

  I found this book at the Baltimore Book Festival where the author had an exhibit to promote his book and the crowd dodged between raindrops looking for literary gold. I usually wander around the various booths and read the first few pages of new genera books to learn if work has basic appeal. The first few pages of this book convinced me to buy the novel and give it a shot. Although the author uses short sentences to a greater degree than I usually prefer, the writing flows smoothly and provides a crisp authors voice. I cut my teeth on the convoluted prose of classic SF authors, so I tend to enjoy the convoluted and layered associative ideas that complex sentences can convey. Still, these sharp sentences seem to work well in this work and may be a more appropriate style for the texting youth of today.

  Yes, this is billed as a Young Adult Novel, but the story is sufficient to hold an adult reader. Adults after all enjoy both the Harry Potter series and Heinlein Juveniles, so just because a novel is labeled young adult by a publisher does not automatically mean less interesting or complex. I can not say Mr. Mascia rises to Heinlein’s level, but he could stand on a stage with Ms. Rowling and look her in the eye.

  So here we have a coming of age teen story, with budding superpowers, abuse of said power, and consequences that promote a subtle and believable character development. This is an entertaining exploration of the ethics of controlling power seen through the lens of the never ending teen angst we all remember from our own teen years. Comic book mythology is cleverly used in this novel as part of the basis for the characters sub culture. Finding themselves with supper powers the teens seek models for behavior from comics, movies and popular culture. The juxtaposition between society’s love/distain for the comic culture and the plot elements required by the story are well handled. In passing the protagonist references the classic Spiderman line, “with great power comes great…” on her way to her own different and logical realization. This realization in the end rewards the reader with a internally consistent climax to the story.

  The author seems to ignore anime/manga and given its prevalence in present teen culture, at least among the teen subcultures referenced, it is unlikely the characters would ignore it so completely. Deemphasizing anime influences in the constructed world is well within artistic license of course, but noticeable. I am unsure if this was a purposeful strategic decision, but if so it may have been a wise move to focus the story.

  Another pleasant positive aspect of this story is the teen girl protagonist does not need the “powerful/exotic” boyfriend to grant her power. Supper Hero powers gained from the liberated research of Nazi scientists, applied to ones grandparents DNA by the U.S. Army to help win WWII, is no more realistic than Vampire powers gained from sharing blood-- but at least it is a break from the never ending flood of paranormal romance novels published these days.

  It is not a break from the protagonist girl gets mind powers and boy gets physical powers storyline. Although a secondary female character gets supper strength, the female protagonist in fantasy stories always seem to get the telepathic/passive/defensive powers. The protagonist’s ability to project mental images moderates the passivity factor, but then again this follows in a well established traditional theme of witch/sorceress/psi-princess.

  The plot runs a well executed girl finds boy, girl loses boy, boy comes back and rescues girl in crisis only to then need girl’s help to save everyone scenario. There is of course the older mentor providing guidance, nicely divided into two characters to provide contrast and lead the questors to understanding their power and role in society. A teacher with supper powers and a grandfather who walked close to the edge of evil only to pull back do twin duty to provide the mentor figure in a style Joseph Campbell would have approved.

  The novel is rendered as a 296 page trade paperback with acceptable but unispired cover art. I am not sure that the cover art is on point for the target audience given I would have assumed this was a mundane high school romance novel if the author had not told me it had fantasy/supper hero elements. I found the primary typeface acceptable, but the use of an alternate typeface for several paragraphs that the stories protagonist read from a diary was mildly distracting.

  This novel passes the fun test. It is a well crafted entertaining multilayered story with a few interesting plot twists. The story is internally consistent with the created universe. I recommend this book to young adults, and young spirits in somewhat older bodies, as an enjoyable read. Given this first novel, I have great hope for the future work of the author.

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