There is a fine line between cute and cringe, but then again, we all participate in cringe in our own ways, in many different flavors.
I say this, because as I was reading The Extraordinaries, there were things to love, but also a lot that felt very put-on and almost too much™. But as someone who is also a little much herself, well, who am I to judge? At the end of the day, what we have here is a cute little story that tries to put a little humanity and reality into the world of superheroes, and the people who see them and idolize them. It does come across almost like a self-insert, superhero fanfic of some kind (and in fact the protagonist engages in fanfic writing themselves, which might be a little clue there), so depending on how you feel about that kind of thing your mileage may vary. I’m sitting at a middle-to-positive.
The Extraordinaries takes place in a universe where certain people are born with special abilities, and thereby called Extraordinaries. In Nova City, two such individuals exist here, in the form of the hero named Shadow Star, and the villain Pyro Storm. Teenager Nicholas Bell is an exuberant chatterbox with ADHD, and is fully obsessed with Shadow Star. iIn fact, he has a huge crush on the hero. And since Nick is a particularly tenacious young person who doesn’t let ideas go easily, he forms a plan to make himself into an Extraordinary as well, with the help of his reluctant yet supportive band of friends.
Overall the story we have here is quick to get through, and easy to read, with quite a bit of introspection and also a grounding that is not always there superhero stories. That is, so often these tales are centered on the heroes themselves, but what about everyone else? What about the people that idolize them or live with the reality of their existence without actually being one themselves? It certainly touches on a lot of solid coming-of-age topics, with some unusual ones peppered in there as well.
And really, more than anything, this story is cute. You know exactly where it’s going because there aren’t even breadcrumbs leading you down the trail, but whole loaves of bread marking the path. I seriously thought “how can Nick be so oblivious!” many a time during this novel, before realizing that I too am oblivious to many things, and were I teen again it would be even worse. Part of this direct leading is also a big part of why I said it feels a bit like a fanfiction earlier, as well: it has all the elements of a pining, slow-burn all over it. Isn’t that half the fun?
But here’s something that made me take a pretty big pause: how uncritical a novel released in 2020 is about the police. It paints a pretty little picture of such an empathetic and kind and understanding that just doesn’t jive with reality in so many cases. Sure, this is a fantasy: an ideal little world to live in for a while, but it just didn’t feel right. And especially since a major part of Nick’s father’s backstory is [SPOILER] that he was removed from detective duty and then put into general police service after he violently beat up a witness while in duty during the investigations regarding his wife’s death. That’s pretty uuuuuuuh………… not great, to say the least. [END SPOILER]
But beyond that, I am also faced with an issue that I have with a lot of modern teen fiction, which is… Do people really talk like that? Teens especially? It always feels so much like an adult trying to write hip and current dialogue for teens that unfortunately comes across as “how do you do, fellow kids?” (yes, I know I have made that reference in a review or two before, but it still stands and it continues to take me out of the reading experience!) I just don’t feel like I have really read and modern teen books have truly captured speech without it being a little too over-the-top and unnatural seeming. Especially in texts/electronic communication. Hey maybe I actually just have a personal issue with books and stories including that kind of thing: I like it to not hinge so deeply on electronic communication or expression even though my own life is so steeped in that. It just comes across as not organic when written into a book, at least this is what I feel. So unfortunately, a lot of the dialogue (both between people and internal) left me scrunching my face up a bit because it just felt a bit clunky.
Nonetheless, The Extraordinaries is a fluffy and fun read, but still has a deep heart with some serious content being presented. It was a great read for me right now as I don’t really have the capacity to go into things that require too much thinking or delve too heavily into the emotional realm. Was it perfect? No. But it was fun to read, and it certainly creates a juicy little setup for the upcoming sequel. Will I read that? Mmmmmm, I’m not sure, but I guess we will find out eventually.