Publisher's Age Range: 9-12
Age of Main Character(s): 12 to 13Publisher's Description: Twelve-year-old Daniel, the new kid in town, soon learns the truth about his nice—but odd—new friends: one can fly, another can turn invisible, yet another controls electricity. Incredible. The superkids use their powers to secretly do good in the town, but they’re haunted by the fact that the moment they turn thirteen, their abilities will disappear—along with any memory that they ever had them. Is a memory-stealing supervillain sapping their powers?
The answers lie in a long-ago meteor strike, a World War II–era comic book (Fantastic Futures, starring the first superhero, Johnny Noble), the green-flamed Witch Fire, a hidden Shroud cave, and—possibly, unbelievably—“powerless” regular-kid Daniel himself.
Superhero kids meet comic book mystery in this action-filled debut about the true meaning of a hero.
My Thoughts: Even though Powerless features a gang of child superheroes, it took me a while to warm up to it. Daniel, the main character, did not ring quite true. His observations sometimes did not fit what I would expect a twelve year old narrator to notice, as in this passage:
The stacks seemed to be made up almost entirely of old pulp novels and hardback adventure anthologies from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, all mint condition. It was like walking into a library out of time. This Plunkett fellow was a man who had found his niche and stuck with it."
As the story progressed, though, I found myself drawn in, just as Daniel finds himself drawn into the mystery of why his new friends' super powers disappear on their thirteenth birthday, along with any memories of being special. I enjoyed reading a super hero book with a main character who does not have super powers. I also thought Cody captured quite well that moment of childhood when some people are old enough to be interested in the opposite sex and others have not quite gotten there yet. The plot is full of twists, turns, mysteries and action.
I also liked how the author dealt with the moral implications of super powers in a nuanced way, even if some characters got a little preachy, like Daniel's friend Eric, here:
"You guys are afraid that one day I'll show up in a cape and tights and that will be it! But the whole idea of being a superhero is not about any of that. It's about being a better person."
There are kids I would recommend this book to in a heartbeat: my comic book lovers, the ones who see every superhero movie that hits the theaters and like to imagine what it would be like if they, too, could fly. The book raises Big Questions that many gifted kids will enjoy sinking their teeth into: what responsibilities come with great power? Does the end ever justify the means? Can one do good by doing evil?
Content Alerts: Daniel's much loved grandmother dies of cancer, and Eric's father died several years before the events of the novel. Characters are in peril, of course. Daniel and his friends face both super bullies and a much more sinister villain. Daniel breaks an arm and gets a concussion, and characters do lose their powers and memories. Eric lives with a single mother and there are some hints that his home life is difficult. An adult character uses very mild profanity once, during a moment of great distress. There are some extremely slight romantic elements - a girl has a crush on Daniel and kisses him on the cheek once. He is not quite sure how he feels about this. A character is teased by bullies because he is Hindu. The super kids sneak out of their houses in order to help a friend in trouble.
Inroads: Super heroes and comic books. Sherlock Holmes is mentioned and alluded to frequently. Mystery. Moving and loss of a family member(Daniel and his family move to Noble's Green to help his sick grandmother). Bullying.All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).