"Heck wasn't a superhero, or if he was, he was definitely in his flat stage, his no-curves-no-life-dead-on-the-page-stage. Of course, all superheros started off that way. It said so in his How to Draw Superheros book."
"Heck Superhero, lost and abandoned in the world of mortals, without his supersuit and the tokens of his strength...
"Heck sat up straight and looked around the mall. No one was looking at him, but he could almost hear Mr. Bandras's voice: 'Daydreaming again, Heck? There's a time and a place for that, and this isn't it.'
"Heck had to admit that now was not a good time to be daydreaming. Not when they'd lost their apartment and when his portfolio with all his semester artwork was locked in it and when bacteria were mining their way down through his molars and his jawbone. He had to stay in this microverse and take care of his mom. Flat or not, he had to get to his mom soon. He had to get her out of hypertime, keep her from thinking crazy stuff like that he was better off without her or something. He had to talk to her before she floated like a dry leaf right out of this dimension.
"He had to think, make a plan, a good plan, a smart plan--a superplan...
"There was always the Good Deed.
"Of course, there was that bad deed still in his pocket to worry about.
"A delicious smell from the mall's food court drifted right up his nostrils. He was hungry.
"He'd been hungry before, but not this hungry. He felt turned inside out, like his stomach was on the outside of him and his human face on the inside. Being this hungry put his stomach in charge of his brain and his hands and his feet. If you weren't a superhero, being this hungry could make you spend the money you stole from your best friend..."
Despite all of that boundless affection that I feel for really great new books, it is exceedingly rare for me to be wishing for another couple of hundred pages. This is one of those uncommon instances. Having charged at breakneck speed through the first half of this book's 144 pages, I was already mourning how little remained with a measure of despair comparable to that with which I greet the longest day of the year--knowing that it's all downhill from there.
"It was an unsettling feeling, like he'd just lost track of the spin of the earth. This was how his mom felt all the time, he thought. It must be, for her, like trying to jump onto a spinning merry-go-round."
But I can also understand Martine Leavitt's need to let go after these 144 power-packed pages. I can't remember a previous instance where I found myself musing about a young character's mind moving at a velocity reminiscent of Neil Cassidy's mouth. HECK SUPERHERO lays bare ninety-six critical hours in the life of this thirteen-year-old all-too-human kid who has channeled a lifetime of chronic neglect by his severely depressed mother into becoming a caregiver and doer of Good Deeds as well as becoming a truly extraordinary artist. In the words of his art teacher Mr. Bandras,
" 'I'm going to tell you something, Heck. I've been teaching for twenty-four years. For twenty-four years I've been telling myself that my work is meaningful, that I've been enriching the lives of children by introducing them to the soul-expanding visual arts. Maybe I've done that. But some of the kids I taught my first year are turning thirty-seven this year. They are clerks and salesmen and mechanics and doctors. None of them go to art galleries, never mind pick up a paintbrush. Sometimes they dazzle their kids and draw a really good horse. Are you hearing me, 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.'
"He pulled up and parked in front of Heck's ex-apartment building. He sighed. 'Then you came along, Heck. Once in a lifetime a student like you. Someone with art eyes. It was worth twenty-four years to get you. Now, I know you, and I know something's going on.' "
But, no, Heck's fears of what could happen to his mom because of her failures, and where she and Heck could each end up, stops him from revealing to his Mr. Bandras or to his best friend Spence how irrevocably bad things have gotten this time. He's sure he's got to go it alone, and he tenaciously grasps that thin thread--his belief that "if you did a true Good Deed, you could change the microverse, maybe change it to a better one."
But how much worse can he let it get before he opens his mouth or before he hits a wall?
"If you were flat you could slide under locked doors at night and get stuff. Stuff you needed, like art supplies. When you were someone who urinated in public places it was the next logical step, wasn't it? If you were a person who stole money from your best friends and did drugs and went to prison, wasn't the next step to take stuff from people you didn't even know? If you urinated in people's driveway, that sealed it.
"Heck's teeth had rhythm: pain, pain, pain, pain, pain, pain...
"He punched his jaw."
As the cover illustration says, "KA-POW!"
Stop listening to what I'm saying, drop everything, and go read this book.