Sportswriter and novelist Lupica (Million-Dollar Throw) offers a change of pace from his previous sports stories for younger readers, deftly reworking the traditional superhero origin story into a moving tale of adolescent growth. Shortly after his father dies in a plane accident, 14-year-old Zach Harriman discovers that his father was more than just a highly placed government adviser; he might have been a superhero. As he investigates his father's death, he meets an old man named Mr. Herbert, who claims that Zach has magic within him, and Zach soon discovers that the mild hints of power he'd shown--a sixth sense about danger and an ability to heal quickly--are only the tip of the iceberg. Lupica nicely coaxes sympathy for characters who are immersed in privilege (only Zach's friend Kate, who lives with her housekeeper mother in Zach's huge Fifth Avenue apartment, doesn't exude wealth), instead focusing on Zach's grief, his conflicting emotions over his discoveries, and his uncertainty over who to trust. As superhero stories go, it follows a classic arc, but Lupica's characters avoid cliché. Ages 10–up. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Hero:
“[N]othing Mike Lupica has written will thrill you like this.” –William Goldman, author of The Princess Bride
“Sportswriter and novelist Lupica offers a change of pace from his previous sports stories for younger readers, deftly reworking the traditional superhero origin story into a moving tale of adolescent growth.” –Publisher’s Weekly
“[T]he stage is set for a sequel to what looks like a surefire hit.” –School Library Journal
Children's Literature - Amy McMillan
Zach's dad is a hero. A special adviser to the President, he's spent years tracking down the bad guys Jack Bauer style and has always come out on top. But when his plane crashes during his last mission Zach doesn't believe it's an accident. The fourteen-year-old takes it upon himself to discover what really happened and finds more than he bargained for. His dad wasn't just a hero, he was a superhero and now Zach is inheriting his powers as well as his responsibilities. Torn by the advice of the mysterious Mr. Herbert who swoops in and seems to know everything about Zach, and that of his Uncle John, who knows more than he lets on, Zach doesn't know who to trust anymore. All he does know is that he will find out the truth about his dad, whatever it takes. Quite the departure from his usual fare, fans of Lupica's sports books will be pleased to find this story full of sports players and sport related imagery. This first installment has a lot of set up but also enough adventure and mystery to suck you in. A fun adventure similar to Percy Jackson (minus the mythical creatures, so far), this story will delight readers looking for a new hero. Reviewer: Amy McMillan
VOYA - Lisa Martincik
Billy Harriman's dad, a former sports hero, is now doing special projects for the president of the United States. Billy does not know how special until his father dies in an airplane crash. Almost immediately he starts to develop what can only be called superpowers, and soon strangers appear to challenge him and drop tantalizing hints that his dad had powers too. Confiding only in his best friend, Kate, Billy tries to understand and control his new abilities while looking for answers to his suddenly mysterious past. Lupica covers a lot of ground in his coming-of-age superhero story: shadowy bad guys, faithful friends, growth out of grief, betrayal, and mysterious mentors. Consistent with past novels, he also includes perhaps too many sports references, which should appeal to existing Lupica fans. While the characters are relatable and appealing, the approach is by the numbers and the prose clumsy in places. Readers conversant with superheroes will wonder at Billy's apparently random set of powers, hopefully addressed in the sequel. The sequel will also ideally deliver more details on the almost absent villains and give Billy direction; he spends much of this book learning whom he can trust. His easy acceptance of his powers seems unlikely, and the frequent pop-culture references threaten to age poorly. Many aspects of the story, however, ring true; insight into Billy's family and school life and his ramblings around New York are well handled, and the presence of politics is a surprising addition that lends depth and potential. This start to an everyman hero surely demands a sequel. Reviewer: Lisa Martincik
School Library Journal
Gr 6–10—In a major departure from his YA sports fiction, the popular Lupica opts for a high-concept, high-octane action thriller. When the father he idolizes dies in a covert government operation, 14-year-old Billy Harriman is determined to find out who killed him, and why. In the course of his investigation he discovers that his father had superpowers, and that he has inherited them. Guided by a mysterious older man who identifies himself as Mr. Herbert, and supported by his wise and sassy girlfriend Kate, Billy begins to come to terms with his destiny. As his socially prominent mother assumes a leading role in the campaign of the presidential candidate his father had backed, Billy finds himself at odds with his father's old friend (and mother's current advisor). The teen eventually becomes convinced that Uncle John is allied with the forces responsible for his father's death. After he uses his superpowers to thwart an assassination attempt on the candidate, he confronts Uncle John, who remains evasive about his involvement with the shadowy organization that seems to have targeted Billy and his family. With all the major issues unresolved at the novel's end, the stage is set for a sequel to what looks like a surefire hit.—Richard Luzer, Fair Haven Union High School, VT
In a trendy fantasy that's probably stand-alone but reads like an overblown series setup, a teenager finds himself endowed with superpowers. After the death (presumed, there being pointedly no mention of a corpse) of his secret-agent father, Billy's grief turns to anger and confusion when two men—one a close family friend, the other a strange, old man who reads minds and can appear and vanish at will—start laying urgent but conflicting and maddeningly cryptic messages on him involving a coming challenge from "the Bads." Suddenly he's being repeatedly attacked by street hoodlums, but, thanks to previously unsuspected martial-arts skills, new superfast reflexes and other powers, he both fends off the thugs and proves ready for a climactic save when an assassin targets a presidential candidate. Nonetheless, not only is there more angst than action here, but, among many signs of patchwork plotting, the real agendas of the men haranguing Billy remain murky and Lupica establishes but then abruptly drops an important character. Readers will be left scratching their heads and wondering when the story will get under way. (Fantasy. 11-13)
Read an Excerpt
THERE were four thugs, total gangsters, in front of the house with their rifles and their night-vision goggles. Four more in back. No telling how many more inside.
So figure a dozen hard guys at least, protecting one of the worst guys in the world.
Not one of them having a clue about how much trouble they were really in, how badly I had them outnumbered.
Hired guns, in any country, never worried me. The Bads? They were the real enemy, worse than any terrorists, even if I was one of the few people alive who knew they existed.
Even my boss, the president of the United States, didn’t know what we were really up against, how much he really needed me.
When he talked about our country fighting an “unseen” threat, he didn’t know how true that really was.
When my son, Zach, was little, I used to tell him these fantastic bedtime stories about the Bads, and he thought I was making them up. I wasn’t.
The snow was falling hard now, bringing night along with it. Not good. Definitely not good. I didn’t need a blizzard tonight, not if I wanted to get the plane in the air once I got back to the small terminal near the airport in Zagreb. Which was only going to happen if I could get past the guards, get inside, and then back out with the guy I’d come all this way for. It meant things going the way they were supposed to, which didn’t always happen in my line of work.
My official line of work? That would be special adviser to the president. A title that meant nothing on nights like this. On assignments like this. The real job description was fixing things, things that other people couldn’t, saving people who needed saving, capturing people who needed to be stopped. Dispensing my own brand of justice.
Sometimes I had help, people watching my back.
Not tonight. Tonight I was on my own. Not even the president knew I was here. Sometimes you have to play by your own rules.
On this remote hill in northern Bosnia, near where the concentration camps had been discovered a few years before, I had managed to finally locate a Serb war criminal and part-time terrorist named Vladimir Radovic. He was known to governments around the world and decent people everywhere as Vlad the Bad because of all the innocent people he’d slaughtered when he was in power, before he was on the run.
To me, he was known by a code name, which I thought fit him much better:
I was here to catch the Rat.
Me, Tom Harriman. About to blow past the guns and inside a cabin that had been turned into an armed fortress.
Almost time now. I didn’t just feel the darkness all around me, as if night had fallen out of the sky all at once. I could feel another darkness coming up inside me, the way it always did in moments like this, when something was about to happen. When I didn’t have to keep my own bad self under control. When I could be one of the good guys but not have to behave like one.
The me that still scares me.
Time to go in and tell the Rat his ride was here.