Wednesday, November 03, 2010

New Yesterday: Hero by Mike Lupica

Mike Lupica’s new novel for young adults, Hero (Philomel), is impressive as hell. In it, Tom Harriman, who appears to be some sort of government field agent, dies on a top-secret mission, leaving his son Billy without a father. After this intro -- which is sort of like the pre-title sequence from a Bond movie -- the story is all Billy, all the time, as he mourns his dad, hangs out with his high-society mom and friends, and gradually discovers a set of powers that transform him -- attitudinally, not physically -- from withdrawn geek to confident hero.

Written in spare, zero-nonsense prose, Hero is a one- or two-sitting read. The moment I started it, I felt instantly involved in Billy’s predicament -- as well as in his wonder at what’s happening to him as he tries to learn what really killed his dad.

Throughout the book, Lupica, using a simple, straightforward story, has crafted a fable about the struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, normal and abnormal. In the world of a teenager, these are major things; hell, in the life of a grown-up they’re major things. But for a teen, they’re formative. I think that’s the difference. Here, Lupica slowly builds a young hero whose DNA is as much about his father as it is about what he believes.

I think the most remarkable thing about the book is the writing itself. There doesn’t seem to be one single extra word. I said above that the writing is spare; well, what’s more spare than spare? It feels as if Lupica wrote a longer version, then whittled away every syllable he didn’t need. My one beef is that the book’s climax comes too quickly, and is too quickly dispensed with, almost tossed off. I wanted, at that moment, to have time to breathe a little with Billy. To celebrate with him. But that’s minor. The cumulative effect leaves you wanting more -- and since Hero is obviously the first of a series, that’s just about the perfect thing to feel. ◊

Tony Buchsbaum, a contributing editor of January Magazine and Blue Coupe, lives in central New Jersey with his wife and sons. These days, he is writing his second novel. Again.

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