We have a soft spot for superhero books at my house, which is why I was happy to accept this review copy from the author.
Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain by Richard Roberts. Curiosity Quills, 2014.
Middle schooler Penelope Akk is the daughter of two super heroes, Brian Akk (aka Brainiac) and Beebee Akk (now retired.) She’s just waiting for her own superpowers to develop, as are her best friends Claire (also from a superpowered family) and Ray, who isn’t, but is hopeful. When Penelope goes into a trance and wakes up with a self-powered lizard/machine/bracelet thing, everyone is ecstatic. Her parents warn her, though, that superpowers often come for a bit and then go away for a while, especially when they’re first developing. But after Claire is rejected by the school’s popular mean girl, Penelope is able to make a super cheerleader serum for her, which gives her super strength, speed, and irresistible cuteness. Then, Ray is furious when Penelope’s invention is thrown out of the school science fair, while Mean Popular Girl’s equally impossible for normal humans project is given the award. When he sneaks in to the gym with the projects to get back at her, with Claire and Penelope trying to stop him, they’re caught by a young teen superhero and labeled as supervillains.
Now the plot, up until then somewhat tediously focused on the science fair, picks up. Now all three have superpowers, and having been labeled as villains already, decide that it might be fun just to try being mild supervillains, just for a while. Nothing really violent, just causing a little innocent mayhem and maybe looting the dump for parts for Penelope’s inventions. Someone else names their team the Inscrutable Machine, and they name themselves individually Bad Penny, E-Clair, and Reviled. It’s all fun and games, including lots of on-line playing of Teddy Bears and Machine Guns, and inventions inspired by the game for a while. But when they come to the attention of the powers that be in the supervillain world, they’ll have to abide by the official rules of the game – including doing work for the local boss supervillain. Will they be able to keep to their simply mischievous goals? And will Penelope be able to keep her parents believing that her powers aren’t fully active yet?
The book had an episodic plot that was a little frustrating at first but makes sense in the context of the superhero story, if I thought of it more as a written out graphic novel series than a novel. It’s very cool that Roberts has written a girl with a super-science power! This is written more as magic than as actually explainable science, but that works just fine for me in context. I couldn’t quite believe that Penny’s parents were as blind as they were –the superhero names alone are only slight changes from the regular ones – but whatever. All of the activities – the school dynamics, social and educational, seemed more like it was about high schoolers that middle schoolers – including some not-quite-sexual activity that would have made middle school me very uncomfortable but would be fine if I imagined the characters three or four years older than they were described. The line between good and evil stays ambiguous through the whole book, which is likely to make some mindsets uncomfortable as well. On the whole, though, this is a lot of fun, and especially recommended for fans of superhero fiction.