Hero by Perry Moore – Book Review

Posted by on Dec 5, 2013 in LGBTQIA, Review | 0 comments

Hero by Perry Moore

From the Blurb:

The last thing in the world Thom Creed wants is to add to his father’s pain, so he keeps secrets. Like that he has special powers. And that he’s been asked to join the League – the very organization of superheroes that spurned his dad. But the most painful secret of all is one Thom can barely face himself: he’s gay.

But becoming a member of the League opens up a new world to Thom. There, he connects with a misfit group of aspiring heroes, including Scarlett, who can control fire but not her anger; Typhoid Larry, who can make anyone sick with his touch; and Ruth, a wise old broad who can see the future. Like Thom, these heroes have things to hide; but they will have to learn to trust one another when they uncover a deadly conspiracy within the League.

To survive, Thom will face challenges he never imagined. To find happiness, he’ll have to come to terms with his father’s past and discover the kind of hero he really wants to be.

Hero by Perry Moore is a young adult superhero story about Thom Creed. Thom has always admired superheroes in silence. Open admiration of those with superpowers isn’t acceptable in his house. His father despises The League, so when Thom discovers he also has superpowers, he must keep it secret. That’s just another secret for Thom, though, since he already can’t tell his father he is gay.

I was really excited to read this novel and it started with the desired bang. I instantly warmed to Thom, unsure of himself, but determined to do what is right. What’s more, the world building totally tickled my fancy. Moore has created a world where superheroes handle crime-fighting like superstars, and in turn are admired like members of a hit new boy band. Doted on by most (except Thom’s jaded father), the superheroes of The League are contrasted to both the super villains and non-League heroes who are treated as vigilantes. The hierarchy of the three groups plays an important role in Moore’s story, but it is the creation of the individual superheroes, their names and powers, that really made me smile. Moore has written a universe of heroes with tongue in cheek references to those we are most familiar with in superhero culture. I really loved this, and even more, I loved the way Moore twisted expectations and questioned devotion to these heroes as he did our devotion to their culture.

Which is where this becomes a tricky review to write without giving too much away. Admittedly, the story is quite predictable, though in a way that I appreciate. This story is very pop, very fun, but also so reference and message heavy that sometimes I felt some of the messages becoming mixed up and confused along the way. Certain things are clear, though: superhero culture isn’t all that it appears to be.

Let’s rewind a bit. I was completely enthralled for the first half of this novel, but slowly I found myself struggling. This isn’t a story about a superhero who happens to be gay (a story that I would absolutely love, by the way). Instead, it’s a superhero story combined with a coming out story, and the two are inextricably related. The problem is, as the coming out story continues, as Thom increasingly comes to terms with his identity as a superhero and what it means to be gay, I found myself cycling into a pit of despair. The story is embedded with a profound sense of hopelessness.

I try not to read much about novels before I start them. I don’t like my reading to be affected by expectations, but I kept wondering when this novel was written. Surely, I thought, it was written in the 80s, – post stonewall, but certainly not recent. But as it went on I realised by certain references that it must have been written much more recently (in fact it was written in 2005, published 2007). The reason for my surprise is that in Hero we have a world that provides no acceptance for homosexuality. You simply cannot be gay without being disowned by near on everyone you know, without being vilified and victimised. You certainly cannot be a gay superhero.

Every time the F-word was thrown at Thom, and particularly when Thom was thrown out of The League upon his coming out, I felt like I experienced a punch in the face and I fell further into the pit of despair that is so much of the journey in Hero. This wasn’t the world I was looking for and surely it shouldn’t be the world we expect in this day and age.

Thankfully, Right (with a little help of Might) prevails in the end, but not without the dissolution of the entire hero culture that Moore has created. He builds it up only to bring it down, leaving a place for Thom with love and maybe a sliver of acceptance, maybe. And yet, that sense of hopelessness never disappears.

I finished Hero utterly crushed and I knew I was missing something. I am the sort of person who believes in the power of the reader. A story is what a reader makes of it, but I knew that as the reader, I wasn’t seeing the full picture. There was something in my despair that came from someone else and something that, while fully felt in the story, wasn’t fully explained. I understood the message that certain power hierarchies had to fall for queer pride to prevail, that much was obvious, but there was something more to those power hierarchies, something right in front of me that I was missing.

Curiosity got the better of me and I found myself Googling Moore’s reason for writing the story, and it all made sense. Apparently Moore wrote Hero as a direct response to what he saw as blatant homophobia within contemporary superhero culture, as evidenced by the repeated deaths, torture and vilification of gay characters. This is something that has been common in most of pop culture for a long time, though it has gratefully diminished in more recent years – certain superhero culture seems to have been somewhat slower on the uptake. It is worth noting that LGBT character depictions in superhero culture and comics have improved somewhat more recently, but there is certainly still a very long way to go.

In the early 2000s, however, things were looking even more bleak, and Hero made so much more sense to me once I read Moore’s reasoning within this context. I suppose it was the obviousness of this primary message that had left me confused, but it was also the complete lack of hope and pride that resonates throughout Hero. Early coming out stories often have that feeling, a lack of belonging, a lack of any hopeful direction (I felt much the same way reading The Well of Loneliness for the first time and that was published in 1928), but it wasn’t something I expected from such a recent piece. It makes sense, however, when considered in the context of Moore’s sense of despair at the rejection and vilification of gay characters in this particular culture at the time.

I don’t know how to rate this book. For much of it I felt sad, confused and demoralised.

But I suppose that was the point.

——-

Holly Kench

Visibility Fiction

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