Due to unfortunate intrusions of Real Life, Middle Grade Monday is brought to you today by Wednesday. Please stay tuned tomorrow for our regularly scheduled Animorphs.
Vincent Wu is Captain Stupendous’s No. 1 Fan, but even he has to admit that Captain Stupendous has been a little off lately. During Professor Mayhem’s latest attack, Captain Stupendous barely made it out alive – although he did manage to save Vincent from a giant monster robot. It’s Vincent’s dream come true… until he finds out Captain Stupendous’s secret identity: It’s Polly Winnicott-Lee, the girl Vincent happens to have a crush on.
Captain Stupendous’s powers were recently transferred to Polly in a fluke accident, and so while she has all of his super strength and super speed, she doesn’t know how to use them, and she definitely doesn’t know all the strengths and weaknesses of his many nemeses. But Vincent and his friends are just the right fan club to train up their favorite superhero before he (she?) has to face Professor Mayhem again. And if they make it through this battle for the safety of Copperplate City, Vincent might just get up the courage to ask Polly on a date.
-cover and description courtesy of goodreads.
Atmospheric Analysis: Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities is yet another awesome middle grade book with an awesome illustrated cover. It’s even got cute, quirky interior illustrations! Perfect.
Planetary Class: Like all superhero sci-fi, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities is closer to science fantasy than “true” science fiction.
Mohs Rating: See above; like most superhero universes, this one rates as a 1 on the Mohs scale, science in genre only–though Jung has fun scotch taping some hard SF explanations to some of the bigger science headscratchers (like where Captain Stupendous keeps his body).
Viability Rating: As far as science fantasy universes go, the one we find in Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities is pretty well-developed. What I enjoyed most was the psychological realism–what would a world where superheroes are real really be like–and what would it be like to grow up there?
Xenolinguistical Assessment: Mike Jung is a master of the middle grade voice. Vincent is a perfectly-rendered early adolescent and his narration is quirky, voicey, and easy-going.
Expanded Report: Mike Jung’s middle grade debut, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities is a nearly perfect title for middle school boys and girls. Told in a voicey, easy-going style, it’s the story of Vincent Wu, middle school student, child of divorce, and Captain Stupendous devotee. In Copperplate City, he and his friends George and Max obsess over the caped superhero with all the fervor and obsession of your average thirteen-year-old nerd (I know because I was one)–the only difference being that in Vincent’s world, the superheroes are real.
But then Vincent is thrown for a loop: the previous Captain Stupendous has died, and Vincent’s crush Polly Winnicott-Lee has taken on Captain Stupendous’s mantle. This provides a fresh twist to what seem slated to be a boy-oriented story. Polly is well-drawn, complex, and scrappy, and Vincent’s growing affection for her is very sweet. The other boys are well-rendered too, particularly big lug Max, who likes to pepper his speech with Yiddish.
It’s in Jung’s tackling of issues of racial and ethnic identity that I was most impressed. Vincent and Polly aren’t characters who happen to be Asian–their Asian-American identities define them as people and yet never make them stereotypes. Likewise easy is the matter-of-fact insertion of Jewish identity. It’s not a whitebread universe, but one as dappled and complicated as our own. Jung also does a solid job of rendering both of Vincent’s divorced parents and his complex relationship to each.
I was less impressed with the handling of gender issues–in fact, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities left me quite torn on that front. Polly is an awesome girl, navigating her feminine identity with the sophistication and aplomb that the boys lack. But she is also–aside from Vincent’s mother, who takes on a typical victim-of-the-supervillain role–the only girl present with a well-developed personality. It’s not unusual to have only one chick in this kind of novel, but Polly is consistently defined by her lack-of-girlyness and, since there are no other girls present, it’s difficult not to read a larger thesis into the novel that is disdainful of girly things. Vincent tells us of a competing Captain Stupendous fangroup, the Stupendites, in the novel’s opening paragraph–this all-girl group consists of pretty, image-conscious, stupid cheerleaders who are also classic mean girls. Later, Vincent observes with relief that Polly’s bedroom is not pink or so “full of foofy ruffled blankets and rhinestones that you want to scream” (186, ARC edition). Polly protests some of Vincent’s more egregious sexist assumptions, but the overall impression is that girls are unlikely to be heroic if they like pink or looking pretty. I hope Jung challenges these outmoded assumptions in subsequent volumes by expanding the cast of female characters or giving more depth to the Stupendites.
Because otherwise, this is a pitch-perfect middle grade title, and one that I’d easily recommend to both boys and girls. It comes out on October 1st, and is available for preorder from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local indie bookstore.