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“When the world needs a hero, sometimes you have to become one.” –Cape
The League of Secret Heroes #1
by Kate Hannigan
AR Test, Diverse Characters, Must Read, Strong Female
Josie O’Malley’s family is all doing their part in fighting the Nazis. While her father is off fighting in the war, Josie’s mother works two jobs and Josie works at a diner to help pay the rent. Josie wishes she could do more—like all those caped heroes who now seem to have disappeared. Josie can’t fly and control weather like her idol, Zenobia. But when Josie sees an advertisement for puzzlers, she thinks maybe she can put her math smarts to use cracking puzzles for the government.
After Josie takes the test, the official throws all of the girls’ tests in the trash. Josie is disheartened, but it soon becomes clear that a top-secret agency has been watching Josie, along with two other applicants: Akiko and Mae. The three girls all love superheroes like Fantomah, Zenobia, and the Black Cat. The girls never dreamed that they would have powers like their favorite superheroes. But when a villain sets fire to a building and puts innocent people in danger, the girls step up to help and discover that they have new superhero powers. As the girls’ abilities slowly begin to emerge, they learn that their skills will be crucial in thwarting a shapeshifting henchman of Hitler, and, just maybe, in solving an even larger mystery about the superheroes who’ve recently gone missing.
Readers will fall in love with the endearingly imperfect girls who highlight the importance of helping others. The diverse cast of characters includes Josie, who is Irish, Akiko, who is Japanese, and Mae, who is African American. The diverse characters give the readers a glimpse of the prejudice of the time period. Akiko’s family was put in a Japanese internment camp even though her brother was fighting in the war. When Josie and her friends go into a restaurant, the manager chases them away because they don’t serve “their kind.” It is at this point that Josie realizes that “prejudices were a lot like allergies. They made it hard for us to really see.”
Josie and her friends love to figure out puzzles and secret messages. They give examples of different ciphers and explain how to decipher them. Even though Josie and her friends have the brainpower to solve puzzles, the girls are treated unfairly. At one point, Josie wonders if she really is just a “stupid girl.” However, she soon learns that others, including her Aunt Kate, are using their mathematical minds to help defeat the Nazis. Cape brings the ENIAC Six into the story and shows how the pioneer programmers did important work during World War II.
Even though the story talks about superheroes, the superheroes’ attributes are never fully explained. Despite this, readers will understand how the superheroes helped encourage Josie and her friends to be better people. Cape blends historical facts into an entertaining, action-packed story that teaches that girls can do anything. Themes of prejudice, friendship, and fighting evil are developed using kid-friendly descriptions. Even though some of the story’s elements are not fully explained, readers will still enjoy the story.
Cape might even encourage readers to learn more about World War II, and the story lists recommended resources for readers who want more. The story ends with historical information on the ENIAC Six, the spy ring, radio news reports, and a list of recommended resources. Cape will leave readers with a positive message that “you’re the one who decides what kind of person you’ll be.”
- A group of bullies steal Josie’s brother’s bikes. Josie tries to get them back. When she sees one of the boys who stole the bikes, she “whipped my broom out ahead of me and caught his feet, I sent him spilling onto the sidewalk. . . I pressed the handle of the broom to his chest, in the little round spot just between his collarbones.”
- When a bully implies that Josie’s father is dead, she gets upset. Then the boy “shoved me back. I stumbled a few steps but caught myself. Without thinking twice, I dove for him, knocking him to the ground.” When Josie’s friends try to help her, the boy “and the others knocked Akiko to the ground.” One of the boys “kicked at” Mae who then, “stumbled onto the pathway, scraping one of her knees.”
- Mr. Hisser tries to flee a building, but the Stretcher “reached out to grab Mr. Hisser. His long black arm stretched nearly the whole length of the room! Just as the Stretcher caught hold of Mr. Hisser’s suit collar, the room erupted in a burst of white light. . .” After the smoke clears, Josie “noticed a few sparks sizzling into the smoky air. All that remained of the Stretcher was a pair of black boots, a shimmery black cape, and a black mask.” Someone explains that “This is what we’re up against. . . A force darker than any of us could have imagined. With each attack, another caped hero disappears. Vaporized.”
- Mr. Hisser set a building on fire. Josie, Akiko, and Mae use their powers to get people safely out of the building. No one is injured. The scene is illustrated over 11 pages.
- Mr. Hisser and his crew plan to blow up a ship. The men put dynamite in fake rats. The girls attack Mr. Hisser, who turns into a snake and hits the girls with his tail. One of the girls is injured and Mr. Hisser carries her away in his snake mouth. The scene is illustrated over 11 pages.
- Later, Akiko says she used fire to get away from Mr. Hisser. Although the scene is not described, Josie notices Mr. Hisser’s head, “which was red and blistery from a burn.”
- Josie tells her brothers a story about their father fighting in the war. Their father was eating breakfast when he heard the air-raid sirens. “. . . Daddy raced upstairs as enemy fire strafed the quarterdeck. Dodging bullets and bombs, he rushed to an injured crewmate and threw him over his shoulder.”
- A boy and his friends put a rope around a raccoon’s neck. In order to help the raccoon, Mae “unleashed a gale-force wind and knocked Toby and the other bullies to the ground. As they climbed to their feet, Akiko transformed into a bowling ball and knocked Toby out at the knees. Again he fell to the ground, this time scraping the palms of his hands.” During the confrontation, Josie “used a bit of telekinesis—staring at one, two, three, four, five heads, then flicking my eyes—to knock their skulls together.” The boys run away.
- Mr. Hisser and his gang show up at a top-secret location. When he sees the girls, “Mr. Hisser flicked his dangerous rattlesnake tail and slammed it into the building, just above our heads. Wood and bricks exploded into the air, then crashed down around us. . . Akiko flung fireballs at his henchmen in the street.” During the fight, “his deadly split tongue shot from his mouth and slammed me [Josie] backwards into the lamppost. My head rang like a telephone, but I had to shake it off.” Josie saves some “innocent people,” then notices that she was bleeding. “One of the Hisser’s razor-sharp fangs must have sliced my skin.” Josie picks up a car and “using all the strength I could muster—and with searing pain shooting through my left shoulder—I heaved the car forward. It landed on the Hisser’s deadly tail with a devastating thud.” The action is described over 10 pages.
- The action continues over 12 illustrated pages. One of the girls hits Hisser with a chair. People are hit with furniture, Hisser is wrapped in chains, and a man is hit over the head with a machine that is like a typewriter. The FBI arrive and arrest Hisser.
- Hisser escapes. “Hisser’s hideous snake form fled the room, his scaly, serpentine body slithering around and around in a dizzying hypnotic threat. With a whip of his rattlesnake tail, he swatted Harry and the agents. They flew backward, slamming into the blinking black steal of the ENIAC machine.” One of the girls changes into a mongoose, and “she lunged for the Hisser’s throat with her sharp front teeth as Mae and I dodged out of the way.” The scene is described over five pages.
- Hisser captures three women and attempts to kidnap them. Josie used “all my powers of concentration, I imagined the statue ripping off its pedestal and hurtling into the path of the Hisser’s oncoming car. As soon as I thought it, the statue followed the direction of my eyes and soared through the air, landing just in front of the Hisser’s wagon. Brakes screeched, but there was no time for the Hisser to stop.” Hisser is arrested and the captives are set free.
Drugs and Alcohol
- The characters call others names. The infrequent use of name-calling includes: marauding meatheads, lunkhead, knucklehead, fleas, dumbbell, knuckleheads, brats, and traitorous scum.
- Hisser calls the girls names, including: Green Fungus and Emerald Irritant.
- Several times, one of the characters uses “Hauntima’s ghost” as an exclamation.
- Someone calls Hisser “demon reptile.”
- In the story, superheroes exist and have different abilities, such as: flying, super-human strength, shape-shifting, telekinesis, causing weather events (like wind), controlling fire, teleportation, etc.
- Josie Akiko and Mae link arms. When Josie talks about doing something good, “a beam of golden light burst from the center of our huddle, radiating upward from our connected hands . . . And the air hummed like it was filled with a thousand bumblebees. . . The crackling electrical charge exploded in my ears now, and energy shot through my veins. . .” Then the girls gain super powers, including how to fly. After the three completed their task, their “costumes suddenly morphed back into our regular clothes, right before our eyes.” This process happens several times.
- When handling a difficult situation, Hauntima’s ghost appears and gives the girls guidance. Sometimes when Hauntima appears, she has an “angry skulled face.”
- Mr. Hisser can turn into a snake.
- Josie gets injured, but her injury heals quickly.