What if you were a super-powered kid? How cool would that be? Maybe you could fly, become invisible, or control electricity with your hands. Now imagine you’re destined to lose that ability at age 13, with no memory of ever having that super-power. That’s the backdrop for Powerless, Mathew Cody’s debut novel.
A few months ago I reviewed Will in Scarlet, Cody’s re-imagining of the Robin Hood legend. In that book Cody puts his twist on several well-known Robin Hood characters, weaves an intriguing plot around them, and produces a gem. Powerless is similar in that respect. This time, the standard super-hero mythology is put in reverse. Our young heroes know that they will soon lose their powers, and they have absolutely no idea what to do about it.
That is, until Powerless’ main character, Daniel Corrigan, moves to town. Befriended by a small group of Supers, Daniel finds himself in a unique position to investigate the disappearing powers. Daniel doesn’t have a super-power himself. Instead, he uses investigatory skills, conducts interviews, and researches the town history in his attempt to solve his friends’ quandary. And all the while the clock is running. The charismatic team leader turns 13 in just a few days.
The first chapter, which serves as an introduction to the story, is achingly poignant. On the eve of his 13th birthday, a twelve-year-old goes out on one last “flight” with his super-powered friends. He wakes-up the next morning, surprised to see dozens of drawings of himself taped on the walls of his room, the words “You Can Fly” added to each drawing. A memory that he can’t quite identify slowly slips away. Adults and discerning young readers will recognize the loss of superpower as the disillusionment and practicality that often accompanies the teen years. You can’t really fly. You can’t save the world. You’re really nothing special. In light of this metaphor, Daniel’s quest isn’t just about saving his friends’ powers. It’s about saving their dreams.
Super-powered teens are fairly common in tween literature, but Powerless stands out from the crowd. These kids aren’t running around in capes and masks. They don’t give themselves catchy names. They aren’t supported by a wise adult, and they don’t meet in a high-tech club house. The kids in Powerless are just regular tweens. Their super-powers make them different. And like many kids that age, they try to disguise their differences and just fit in.
The second half of the book will please readers looking for action, adventure, and evil villains. The writing is quickly-paced. Cody creates situations and challenges that let us learn about the characters. There’s a solid plot resolution, but room for further development on many fronts. Indeed, Powerless is book #1 of a 3-book series.
Add Powerless to your classroom library, and complete the set for your library media center. Recommend the book to readers looking for superhero stories, but don’t be afraid to promote it those who prefer more introspective fare.