Hero is like a comic book without the pictures. It is the tale of Thom, a young kid that can heal things with the touch of his hands. He wants to join the League – a group of supernaturally talented people charged with the mission of protecting the citizens – but Thom has a secret that could shatter all his dreams.
Thom comes from a line of League members; both his mother and his father worked for them at some point. When Thom was young, his father was responsible for a major accident that resulted in the death of a lot of people. He was shunned from the League, and from society as well. Consequently, Thom isn’t even allowed to mention the League around his father, let alone entertain the idea of actually joining them. When Thom’s superhero idol invites Thom to try out for a position with the League, Thom decides it is time to take matters into his own hands.
But Thom’s problems run deeper than just a problematic parent. Thom is gay, and where he comes from, being gay is totally frowned upon. Thom knows that if the League members find out that he likes boys, they’ll kick him out and he’ll suffer all kinds of public humiliation. However, even as he tries to hide his sexuality from the world, Thom knows that you can only deny yourself for so long before the truth must come out. As Thom navigates a very public ‘outing’ will he allow himself to fall in love, or will he continue to wallow in shame and self-pity?
It is obvious that Thom is supposed to be a role model for gay kids everywhere, but his lack of courage to fight for his cause, his unabated acceptance of his community’s overt homophobia and his expressions of shame and self-loathing negate any possibility of him presenting as a positive role model. He is likeable enough, though, and I did feel sorry for him in the beginning, but as the narrative came to a close I realised that Thom is an enabler of his own problems. He allows people to treat him with disrespect and discriminate him based on his sexuality.
The superhero aspects of this novel adhere pretty closely to traditional conventions. Heroes are dressed in fabulous costumes, wear capes, fly, and have names like Uberman and Golden Boy. The superhero elements are largely overshadowed by Thom’s sexuality, and Hero is essentially a coming out story dressed up in a superhero costume.
It is a little disappointing to see gay teen characters continually placed in such abusive, negative situations. The time has come for positive stories for queer teens that don’t include overt displays of prejudice and homophobia. In saying that, I hereby challenge writers everywhere, if you’re thinking about writing a gay character into your story, do so respectfully, without reverting to any direct or implied slurs against their sexual preference. I am now officially on the hunt for books which portray gay kids in a positive, non-discriminatory manner. Let the games begin…