As a huge fan of superhero stories, I could not resist Mike Jung's debut novel, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities. Yet again, my instincts for middle grade novels have served me well, because Jung's novel is every bit as stupendous as its main superhero.
Packed with superhero stunts and villainous mayhem, Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities will surely delight any and all superhero fans. The tone matches up well with the movie The Incredibles, fun, action-packed, focused on family, and with a little bit of romance on the side. For older readers, Jung throws in cute references to classics of the superhero genre. For example, I noticed a street named after Brian Michael Bendis.
Vincent Wu and his friends run their own (unofficial) fan club for the city's famed superhero Captain Stupendous. Vincent, Max and George are not remotely popular, but they have each other and can comfort themselves in the awareness of their superior knowledge of Stupendous' exploits. Their lives get changed for the more exciting when they learn the secret identity of Captain Stupendous...and he's not anyone they ever would have expected.
Vincent, Max, and George make such a convincing group of nerdy friends. They squabble, have their own sets of inside jokes, tease each other mercilessly, and, most importantly, have each others' backs when need arises. The inclusion of Polly is my favorite part, because she shows them how powerful girls can be, even though they have trouble believing that at first. Polly totally rocks, and I love the wonderful message that Jung sends about strength through her character.
Vincent's parents are largely absent during the book, divorced and both busy with their jobs, father as a genius inventor and mother as school superintendent. However, despite their lack of physical presence, there is no doubt of how much they care for their son. They call him and check on him, and do their best to protect him. Perhaps most touching is his relationship with his mother's boyfriend, Detective Carpenter. He treats Vincent with respect and honors his opinions in a way Vincent hasn't ever really felt from adults, which helps him open up in this new set of challenges.
Serious messages aside, this book is almost entirely hilarious. There's the awkwardness of first crushes, the superhero/villain banter, and plenty of gross scenes, including one rather spectacular one involving a lot of vomit. Young readers will no doubt love all of these things. To top it all off, there's a scary robot and a bunch of epic battles. What more could you ask for?
The supervillain plot follows well-tread lines, and will not be shocking to older readers. Really, though, the focus is not on the supervillain, so much on heroism and how size doesn't really matter when it comes to defeating the bad guy. Though a bit anticlimactic, the showdown with the villain is hilarious and fitting. Just know that this isn't one of those stories that ends with the defeat of the villain.
What Left Me Wanting More:
Nothing. I think this is a perfect book for the target audience.
The Final Verdict:
I highly recommend Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities for anyone who enjoys superhero tales, young and old alike. The book reads quickly, and comes with a bunch of perfectly-matched illustrations by Mike Maihack.