Once again, being behind both in reading and reviewing means that I get to review the first two books of a series at the same time. I have enjoyed every book I’ve read by Kate Hannigan so far (see Cupcake Cousins and The Detective’s Assistant), and this being her first foray into speculative fiction, I was super excited. This series mixes World War II history with superhero action.
Cape: the League of Secret Heroes Book One by Kate Hannigan. Illustrated by Patrick Spaziante. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2019. ISBN 978-1534439115. Read from library copy.
Irish-American and New Yorker Josie is looking for a way to help her country in WWII like her cousin, when she meets two other girls whose test scores were thrown out because the proctor thinks that only boys are wanted. Japanese-American Akiko and African-American Mae are equally enraged, then won over when they are recruited by a secret, parallel organization. After all, three innocent-looking girls can go where no one else can, right? Despite their different backgrounds, the girls bond over their love of comics and pie and milkshakes at the local diner, as well as the shared experience of having their loved ones either in danger or already lost in the war. Then they learn a terrible secret – all over the country, superheroes are disappearing or losing their powers. When the girls find their own, it’s up to them to stop the Nazi plot and save the day!
While most of the story is told in prose, it switches to black-and-white comic sequences for the battle scenes. Though the general tone stays upbeat, appropriate to the old-fashioned superhero feel, it also doesn’t shy away from the hardships that Akiko and Mae especially experience. They also get to meet real-life female codebreakers and the women of ENIAC, with more information about them included in the back matter.
Mask: the League of Secret Heroes Book Two by Kate Hannigan. Illustrated by Patrick Spaziante. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2020. ISBN 978-1534464766. Read from ARC.
In Book 2, Akiko and Mae tell Josie to stop thinking she’s the only one who can be in charge, and though that’s a short moment with no argument from Josie and she’s still our main point of view character, this book is Akiko’s story. The Infinity Trinity head to San Francisco to look for the missing superhero Zenobia. Once there, Akiko shows them the house and car that used to be her family’s and are now being used by a white family. This is upsetting enough, but when they go to check on the part of her family that’s in Manzanar internment camp, Akiko’s mother is missing, and no one seems to know where she is. Akiko thinks she might see her back in San Francisco – together with the owner of a doll store – but before they can investigate further, the streets are invaded with a parade of sinister clowns led by one calling himself Side-Splitter. Their clear target is a trio of warships being repaired in the harbor.
Superhero work stays closely tied to the personal, with big consequences, as the Infinity Trinity investigates a suspected spy, breaks some codes, learns new self-defense techniques and discovers new individual powers. They also meet some real-life female spies and codebreakers, continuing the trend of highlighting forgotten heroes. The war is definitely getting worse – restaurants aren’t able to serve the pie and milkshakes the girls crave due to rationing, and more and more superheroes are in trouble. On
I am generally wary of having World War II internment be the only story we tell about Japanese-Americans, but I thought this was a good take on it, with Akiko and her family’s hard work to help the American war effort highlighting the injustice of their treatment. I really do appreciate that the author is telling a story where the main character reflects her own background, but is living in a world that hasn’t had the diversity whitewashed out. All the other middle grade superhero books I’ve read have been from a male viewpoint, so this is a nice addition to the genre. And though we only wish we’d had superheroes in World War II, this makes for a fun story that could also inspire readers to further research.
Cape is out in paperback on August 12 and Mask is coming out August 18, 2020. Book 3, Boots – which I’m hoping will be Mae’s story – is due out in 2021. And you can read more of Kate Hannigan’s thoughts on the series at the Nerdy Book Club.
Here are some more superhero books – what would you add?
- Almost Super by Marion Jensen
- Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities by Mike Jung
- Sidekicked by John Anderson