Danny Tozer has always known she should have been born a girl, and we know this on the first page. The first scene of this book features her hiding in an alley, dressed otherwise like a male, and painting her toenails; this is the only outlet she has as a closeted trans fifteen year old in an emotionally abusive household (her dad is a colossal asshole). But everything changes when her toenail painting session is interrupted by a superhero/supervillain fight. Dreadnought, one of the most powerful superheroes, is shot and killed in front of her by the villainous Utopia, but he before he dies, he passes his mantle to Danny. And along with an array of numerous cool superpowers (super strength, flight, nearly impervious skin, super healing, etc.), the mantle also comes with a nifty side bonus: it grants its bearer with their ideal form. And for Danny, that means it turns her biologically female. This comes, understandably, as a surprise, but not an unpleasant one. In fact, Danny is ecstatic. The problem is how everyone else is going to react. Not only does she now have to deal with the consequences of her transition, but also with her new burden as a powerful superhero.
This book worked for me, overall. The craft of it wasn’t perfect (in fact, in places it was pretty awkward because: first book), the villains were also a tad too villainous, and Danny’s sidekick (or rather, Danny is her sidekick) Calamity annoyed me while she was in her superhero persona. That may just be my personal hang-up, though. I loathe fake old western accents and verbiage. I much preferred her as Sarah, Danny’s first friend after her transition. But for the most part, this book tackles the shades of grey and nuance of Danny’s situation admirably. The Dreadnought concept is well thought out, as is the superhero worldbuilding of her universe (it’s very detailed, and several things felt unique to this story). The book focuses as much on how becoming a biological female has affected her life as much as becoming a superhero, and how one informs the other. The superhero concept works as a nice metaphor on the heightened experiences real trans people go through.
I mentioned the villains, and I’m actually including her dad in that, although this could be a me-issue as well (this is an own voices novel, written by trans woman). He seemed a little too on the bad side, although I say this as someone who did not experience that kind of abuse growing up. I can only speak as to the way he was presented in the story, and to me, he seemed a tad over the top and inhuman. I also say that alongside the contradictory statement that I loved Danny’s inner conflict in responding to him and the terrible environment she was raised in. I don’t know, I guess I wish he was just a bit less inhuman acting. Maybe just a couple of small moments showing him as a person, to contrast with those moments when he loses it, or Danny remembering some sort of good moment with him in her past. Even something as small as that would have helped. It’s not that I think those moments were necessarily unbelievable, just that they were all we saw, and thus he was more of one-dimensional character than anything.
Aside from Danny’s father, I thought Daniels did a great job with the reactions of the other characters to Danny’s transition (both gender and superhero), from her best friend turning out to be a Nice Guy Creep, to her classmates, her teachers, her mother (who waffles back and forth), and even some members of the superhero team she gets an invite to, having inherited Dreadnought’s powers. Daniels really does a nice job contrasting Danny’s inner and outer power with the reactions of those around her, who keep insisting on defining her for themselves. The heightened reality of Danny literally becoming female worked to highlight the underlying assumptions and social structures surrounding Danny that work against her and the identity she is trying to discover for herself.
There is a sequel to this book due out later this summer, and I will definitely be checking it out, although I’m a bit nervous. My least favorite bits of this were actually the superhero plot things, and the most was the newness of her transition, which will necessarily fade. So I’m not sure how interesting I will find the sequel, if the gender issues aren’t equally present.