Book Nights: Overpowered
Overpowered by Mark Kruger
My track record with superhero novels has been hit or miss, but somehow I keep getting asked to review them. If only filmmakers or studio PR were this forthcoming. But after my very pleasant experience with The Heart Does Not Grow Back, I was offered another opportunity to review a superhero novel. Largely because it was the same people I happily accepted, and since the book was the second in a series they graciously included this one which was the start of this series. There have been a lot of films centered around young adult book series lately and I have seen very few of them, at first glance Overpowered with its young heroine Nica front and center seems like it might just be another blip in a sea of similar books. But I really enjoyed this story about a small town with a sinister secret, it had elements of Disturbing Behavior (in a good way) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and after I finished, I’m glad I’ve already got the second book ready to go.
The story follows a young teenager named Nica, she’s a world traveler who lives with her reporter mother in a different country every few months or so. But when she gets offered a job in Antarctica, Nica gets shipped back to her dad’s house in a small town called Barrington. Or at least a moderate sized town as the high school holds several hundred students. In recent months, I’ve paid more attention to how women are represented in front of and behind the camera so I was initially a little skeptical at having a female lead in a book written by a male author. Not that I didn’t think it could be done, as it has been done thousands of times, but I wasn’t sure it would be done as well as it could be. Especially since my last experience down this road was a pretty poor one. But I really got the feeling that Nica was a well rounded character. She wasn’t overly sexualized, or really sexualized at all. There were moments of “boy-crazy”-ness, but they were infrequent and always felt attributed to teenage hormones rather than stereotypical girlishness.
Even though I did know that this was a superhero novel, most of the plot revolves around the mystery of the town itself. It’s one of those overly-idyllic towns where everybody knows everybody else, but everything is just slightly wrong. There’s a town curfew, there’s a giant high-tech facility owned by not-Google/Apple who have their hands in everything around town, and their private security are ever-present. Top things off by rebel boy, who is literally referred to as “rebel boy” by Nica’s internal narration until she learns his real name. Kruger does a deft job at doling out bits of information at a regular pace, enough to keep things interesting while never so much that the reader figures things out before the characters do. There are plenty of characters who you are never sure if they know more than they let on, or if they are just trying to help. And there are a couple people who I’m still not sure of after this book has ended. For a large part of the book, Nica isn’t sure who she can trust and who might be after her, even her father’s allegiances are constantly questioned.
But besides the mystery, it is a superhero origin story otherwise I wouldn’t be covering it here now would I? It’s a bit of an odd concept that involves this giant electromagnetic pulse of energy that affects certain people, including Nica and a few of her friends. Rebel boy, also known as Jackson gains electrical powers, he can absorb electricity and shoot it out as essentially a taser. Oliver has super legs, basically he’s able to run somewhere around 40 to 50 miles per hour and can leap 30 feet or so. Not quite the Flash, but nothing to sneeze at. Another character who in a rare moment I’ll not name in favor of spoilers gains telekinesis, and Nica herself gains the power of invisibility. As far as super powers go, even though there is an air of science fiction, there’s a strong attempt at keeping them grounded in reality by not having them be overpowered as the book’s title implies. It also limits their abilities as they are tied to an outside event beyond their control and only last for about a day after each of these pulses.
Alongside the mystery, drama, and tension is also quite a bit of well placed humor. There are never really any laugh out loud moments, but there are plenty of comic relief bits strewn throughout the novel. They also often have the right amount of pop culture reference to help set it in a place and time without having it feel like it’s trying to hard. Kruger has written for television before writing this novel and that does come through in a good way. The characters all feel like they could be characters in a TV show, there are bits of tropiness to them, especially when it comes to the overly perky cheerleader/miss popularity, the self-absorbed, popular quarterback with a rich dad, and the nerdy-but-quippy best friend. There’s also a little bit too much of the interpersonal teen drama, but thankfully it’s few and far between. Overall I do recommend this book, I really did enjoy it and I would be pleased if it ever did get adapted into live action in some form, we definitely could use another female superhero for sure. And I’m looking forward to start digging into the second novel, Overtaken. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.