The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

Shadow Hero

Cindy: The Green Turtle superhero in The Shadow Hero (First Second 2014) is in third place for me, behind superheroes Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew, the creators of yet another fabulous graphic novel for teens. Yang is no stranger to illuminating Asian history and culture through engaging graphic storytelling and this book is no exception. Based on a five-volume American comic of the 1940s and some rumor and legend, Yang provides the back story for the genesis of The Green Turtle, who quite possibly was the first Asian American superhero, despite the original publisher’s best wishes. Our hero, Hank, a second generation Asian American has grown up in his parents’ grocery store in Chinatown and is happy to follow in his father’s footsteps. Mother is less than thrilled with this cowardly, bland path and sees another option after being rescued herself one day by a superhero. Not to be outdone, she pulls out the sewing machine and creates a caped costume for Hank and then using all of the comic hero tropes (insect bites, toxic spills, etc.) to great humorous effect, she attempts to arm him with some real superhero power.

The Green Turtle’s real power comes unexpectedly after a tragic death while fighting organized crime in Chinatown. Hank’s need for revenge takes hold but it is tempered by the honest and responsible parenting his father provided. There is much to love here. Liew’s artwork is perfect and it was fun to find small treats (the nod to the 1938 picture book The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Bishop or to Yang’s American Born Chinese with a glimpse of Chin-Kee–both on page 99) and Yang’s storytelling is strong and sure…and funny.  The action is classic comic with an Asian twist. This is a winner. More please!

Lynn:  Well, I don’t know what that original publisher could have been thinking!  Who can resist a super-hero who starts out to fight for justice without actually having any superpowers?  Who could resist a superhero with a turtle-shaped shadow that goes everywhere with him?  And who could resist a superhero who tries to listen to his mother?  I adored this smart funny book!  As Cindy says, it is full of little details that are so much fun to spot.  The story is really engaging and Sonny Liew’s illustrations, color and panel design are terrific.  I love how his one super-power arrives after loss instead of through one of the standard tropes.  And when asked to chose his power, Hank impulsively responds instead of thinking it through.  A charming tribute to the golden days as well as a thoroughly modern spin on the genre.  My favorite thing?  It may come at the end when the Anchor of Justice says, “My parents aren’t from around here either.”  Don’t miss this!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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