Reviewed by Rod McLary
Move over Superman, Batman and Spider Man – there is a new superhero on the block. The new superhero is Shadow Star and, like all superheroes, he has an archnemesis Pyro Man and an alter ego – but giving away the alter ego’s identity would be a major spoiler.
In Nova City, where this story is located, Shadow Star and Pyro Man are ‘extraordinaries’; that is, they each have super powers which can be used for either good or evil. Which superhero is for good and which is for evil forms a key element in this Young Adult novel about Nicholas Bell [known as Nick or Nicky], his best friend Seth Gray, and his two female friends Jazz and Gibby. On the periphery of this friendship group is Owen. One shared quality of this group is that each of the teenagers is gay – or queer as it is termed in the novel. Jazz and Gibby are a couple; and Nick once had a brief relationship with Owen but his attentions are now directed elsewhere. The trajectory of the developing relationship between Nick and the new object of his adolescent desire is another key element in the novel.
Each of the characters is aged 16 or 17 and attends Senior High in Nova City. Nick has ADHD about which he is quite open and his mother was killed in a botched bank robbery two years previously. There is more to this death than meets the eye – tragic as it is – but that is to be revealed at another time. Nick and his father Aaron who is a police officer are struggling to deal with their grief while at the same time trying to maintain their essentially sound and loving father:son relationship. Fortunately, Nick has the support of his friends and this support coupled with his apparent charm and witty repartee provides a rather heart-warming feel to the novel.
But there is also the war being fought out in the skies above Nova City between the two superheroes and between good and evil. These battles which occur at various times in the book are consistent with the best – comprising as they do falling bridges, collapsing buildings, last-second rescues of the most vulnerable, and pyrotechnics which would put many a blockbuster movie to shame.
It is to the author’s credit that both the supernatural and the human aspects of the novel are seamlessly blended so one never dominates the other.
The novel has a fast pace to it – perhaps partly fuelled by Nick’s condition as it is mentioned many times through the novel and as Nick says of himself:
It was the look. Like Nick had spoken too much. Or had gone too far. Or had said something so stupid and crazy and out there that it was impossible to understand how such words could have come out a normal, sane person. Yeah, Nick had gotten that look from many, many people in his life. 
It must be said though that the references to Nick’s condition are not made for entertainment but to ‘normalise’ the condition and to demonstrate to readers that his emotions and behaviours are typical of any 16-year-old boy. It is clear that his friends see beyond the ADHD and love him for his innate qualities.
Similarly, the stories of the relationships between Jazz and Gibby, Nick and Owen, and then Nick and his new boyfriend are intended to – in the words of the author himself – ‘now more than ever – [to] have accurate, positive, queer representation in stories’.
Overall, it is an exciting and warm-hearted story which would certainly appeal to the demographic for which it was written and to not a few older people who appreciate a story which blends excitement with human interest.
One important thing for the reader to note is that there is a coda to the novel which appears at the end of the book after Credits. It is important not to miss the coda [as this reader did initially] as it places the events of the novel in a clearer context and also hints at a sequel.
TJ Klune has just recently become a full-time writer. He won the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Romance in 2013 for Into This River I Drown and was chosen by Amazon as having written one of the best LGBTQ books of 2011.
by TJ Klune
ISBN 978 1 473 69305 0