This was a pretty easy read: in fact, I read it in a single day. About 6 or 8 hours, I'd guess. It's been awhile since the I last read a modern book for young adults. (Was the last one The Knife of Never Letting Go?) This may have contributed to how quickly I fell into this book, but it was definitely enjoyable and compelling.
The writing itself is effective and well-edited. There are some nice turns of phrase and metaphor throughout, like this beautifully horrifying bit that conveys such an exact sensation: "In the middle of his chest, it felt as though something large and spiky was shifting around, until it reached the bottom of his stomach. It settled down there and had an uncomfortable nap." There's an informality to the writing voice that suits its middle-school protagonist.
The main character, Michael Washington, is fairly likable and very relateable. In the opening segment of the novel, he has retreated into books to survive the horrors of a fifth grade without friends. My middle school years were remarkably and sadly similar, so it resonated with me, though I didn't recognize all of the book references. With a few exceptions to be noted below, I believed in his emotional turmoils, his flaws and strengths. I laughed wryly when a new character was introduced and he reacted primarily with irritation at being distracted from his books. Charlotte was charming, though a bit reminiscent of Spinelli's Stargirl or other Manic Pixie Dream Girls, and I was happy for Michael (even if he wasn't at first).
I enjoyed the pacing, as we were wrapped up in Michael's middle school experience, and the greater world took some time to emerge as very radically different from our own. Minor spoiler alert here: this book is very much about superhumans. It takes some time for that to be obvious in the narrative, which I though worked well. And it's a fairly interesting take on superhumans and their collective effect on the world- the impression I had was almost post-apocalyptic, with our primary city setting a holdout of order. I am quite curious to see more of the world in later installments.
However, there were a few hiccups in my enjoyment. A rather smallish but persistent issue for me were the self-conscious references to "the past." Charlotte, being a super-retro groovy music fan, was a particular source of historical awkwardness. The story is set some 30 or 50 years into the future, and although it was somewhat amusing, I definitely felt that there were too many references to our last decade (2000-2010). It took me out of the story, and I found it a bit distracting. Perhaps the target young adult audience will take that in better stride.
The greater difficulty I had with the book was in the relationship Michael has with his parents. As the plot develops, we see more of the conspiracy (or even conspiracies) beneath the picket-fenced surface of Michael's world, and his parents are a definite part of it. It was fascinating, but I kept expecting more outrage from our protagonist. Aside from a flare-up with his grandfather, Michael never directly confronts his parents-- not even in his own head. I found that alienating, though perhaps I biased myself with an overly paranoid theory regarding what was going on. But even so, his parents are extremely unfair towards him, and it's confusing that he doesn't seem to really resent that.
However, I very much look forward to reading the next book in the series, Super Anybody. Will my paranoid theorizing be vindicated? I don't know, but I anticipate some interesting deconstructions of superheroes as related by a likeable and believable viewpoint character, and that's more than reason for me to pick it up.
(review of free book)