Even Heroes

Thirteen-year-old Vincent Dafoe has always been careful: no running, no climbing stairs, and no extensive physical activity lest he activate a potentially lethal asthma attack. No matter how much Vincent wants to remain inconspicuous, however, the protection he receives from his mother makes him a target for relentless bullying. One night, Vincent decides to test the limits of his physical skill to see if all the protection is truly necessary, and what he discovers surprises him. As he grows stronger, he finds freedom under the cover of darkness and begins to personify the superheroes he respects so much as he creates an identity of his own.

This engrossing early young adult novel is well-written and incorporates both action and believable human interaction. Vincent is a self-made superhero, someone who excels specifically because of his tenacity and his willingness to do right by other people, especially when he can remain anonymous while doing so. The narrative is peppered by quotes from Vincent’s superhero alter ego, the Black Stag, which help to solidify his persona while inspiring readers to perform their own good deeds. Throughout the story, chapters vary in length, but the overall design of the book makes it appealing to both older middle grade and young adult readers alike. Occasional swearing and scenes of peril are important inclusions within the story, and the careful execution of them means the book can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages.

Alongside the superhero adventures are recognizable challenges of adolescence, like human conflict, drugs, bullying, and growing into oneself. As readers venture deeper into Vincent’s story, they will have visceral connections to the things he is experiencing, particularly when he chooses to remain silent in the face of adversity. Luckily, Vincent has many people in his corner he does not always recognize, and these people, coupled with his own desire to excel, help him through the more difficult moments. The final scenes in the book increase in dramatic intensity primarily as they hit close to home for many readers, and this may require a trigger warning for those more sensitive to the subject matter. As in many superhero origin stories, Vincent grows into his strength gradually, and each subsequent success grants him the confidence to try even more. Readers who enjoy carefully crafted superhero adventures with a foundation in reality will devour this book and are sure to fall in love with the Black Stag themselves.

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