Perry Moore’s HERO is easily one of the best books I’ve read lately.
Along with some excellent plot twists, there are a couple major plot holes — Moore hangs a lantern on one by having the hero comment in passing on the fundamental stupidity of the villain’s plot — but I barely noticed because I was having so much fun reading it.
Like a few other books I’ve read lately, it’s a non-graphic novel set in a version of the present in which superheroes and their organizations have for decades been a recognized part of America’s political and cultural landscape. The protagonist, Thom, is the son of a disgraced former hero and a mom who’s disappeared. And he’s got a couple of secrets…
Here are some things I loved about this book:
- The characters. They’re working class, and their problems — from poverty to oppression to, you know, needing to save the world — are very real. Moore does a particularly good job with the hero’s father, whose principles and limitations are both portrayed to excellent effect.
One of Moore’s best tricks is to repeatedly have his narrator-protagonist imagine what other characters’ experience of something (e.g., the moment when they make an unpleasant discovery) must have been. It could easily have been abused, but as Moore does it, it’s a nice way to create a vivid sense of some of the book’s other characters, while also conveying our hero’s sense of empathy. It helps that Moore employs this only for particularly painful moments. What’s a better way to make you care for a character than helping you imagine in detail the indignities they face?
There were some unexpected sucker-punches (in the best way) — including one passage that I loved for indirectly making the parallel between LGBT civil rights today and interracial marriage in the past.
- The voice. I wasn’t surprised to see that Moore works in movies, because I thought a lot of the dialogue and fight scenes were crafted with a future movie option in mind (“‘Mind control.’ Dad sighed and shook his head. ‘I hate mind control.’”) — then I wondered if, actually, the book is just written like a comic. I haven’t read enough comics to know.
- And, of course… the romance. Moore follows a superhero trope where we readers know right away who the real-life love interest is when he puts his mask on, but the main character takes a million years to catch on. (My dad and I used to watch LOIS & CLARK together when I was little, and our favorite episode was when a villain asked Lois if she was “galactically stupid” for never having noticed that Clark… is… Superman.) What kept this from being tiresome is how utterly savorable the romance was.
Here’s just one passage that made me fall in love with our hero, and thus cheer him on in his efforts to find love of his own:
We drove in silence. I didn’t like the empty space. I wanted to tell him that I’d take him to dinner and get to know him, and that even though I didn’t have a lot of money, I’d find a nice pizza joint and we’d both have fun. I wanted to tell him to drive us straight to the beach and we could check into a motel and talk all night and walk by the ocean until the sun came up.
But I guess if you don’t really feel that for someone, you shouldn’t say it. I wasn’t saying it to him, and he wasn’t saying it to me, either.
I had those feelings for someone else.
That’s what I’m talking about, people. If you haven’t read this one, consider doing so at your earliest opportunity.