CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 5 . . . . October 29, 2004
His mom had this thing with time she and it didn't get along. He had recognized that tone in her voice, the one that said, "I'm in hypertime and I don't know when I'll be back." Her friend Dierdre called it depression.
But Heck had learned by reading comics that hypertime was a bridge to coexisting realities. It was how Superman could be dead in one comic book issue and alive in the next. Both were true, each in its own time and existence. It meant he could have a mom who was the best mom a kid could dream up and the kind of mom that Social Services had a file on. When he'd heard her voice last night, he knew. She was feeling like she couldn't deal with this microverse full of evil landlords who changed locks and evicted her from her apartment.
Heck, Superhero, Martine Leavitt's astonishing new novel, lays bare four gut-wrenching days in thirteen-year-old Heck's life. Heck and his mother have been evicted from their apartment, his mom is missing in action somewhere, he's tired and hungry, and he's plagued by a very bad toothache. Not wanting to cause trouble for his mom, Heck decides not to tell the people who care about him his best friend Spence, his art teacher Mr. Bandras, and his mother's friend Dierdre and instead attempts to fend for himself. Heck bides his time at the mall, cleaning at a local art gallery to make money, sleeping in a neighbour's 1958 Thunderbird and desperately searching for his troubled mother. A series of harsh realities culminating in tragedy come at Heck like machine-gun bullets, and he, at last, realizes he must do something to save himself and his mother.
Through richly detailed, deeply felt imagery, Leavitt dives into the endlessly imaginative mind of young Heck. The setting and situations are raw and hyper-realistic, but the narrative is wonderfully influenced by Heck's love for all things comic book-related. Heck thinks of everything in terms of superheroes. He sometimes feels "flat" in his "no-curves-no-life-dead-on- the-page stage," and he feels he can save his mom through doing the perfect Good Deed. Leavitt successfully integrates this superhero element not only into the flow of the novel but also into Heck's character: he uses this modern mythology to help form his own identity and find his inner strength to help himself through hard times. Leavitt does an impeccable job of imparting Heck's feelings of helplessness and lack of power over his situation the reader feels hungry, lonely and achy right along with the book's protagonist. Heck's voice rings true with determination, intelligence and youthful optimism.
Leavitt is a master of dialogue, and her talent is especially apparent here; her sharp, authentic characterizations are supported by her fast-flowing, realistic dialogue. Particularly notable is Mr. Bandras, Heck's art teacher, who achingly explains to Heck: "If I had a nickel for every time a student came back and said, 'Thanks for enriching my life with the visual arts,' I'd have a whole fifteen cents. I've spent fifty-one thousand eight hundred and forty hours of my diabetic and therefore shortened lifespan babysitting art students."
Leavitt packs an amazing amount of story into one seamless, slim volume. For those who enjoyed Leavitt's Tom Finder, this talented author's latest offering delivers an equally strong dose of gritty urban realism. Unique, fresh and unflinching, Heck, Superhero is a true stunner.
Christy Goerzen is a Master of Arts in Children's Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia and Communications Coordinator for the Vancouver International Children's Festival.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.