8Books: “Heroine Complex” by Sarah Kuhn

9780756410841Heroine Complex is an absolute delight. Also it starts with demon cupcakes and includes spam musubi, so what’s not to like.

Evie Tanaka is a superhero’s sidekick / personal assistant / childhood best friend. Her boss / childhood best friend / beloved superheroine of San Francisco, Aveda Jupiter (born Annie Chang), kicks demon butt while Evie handles every imaginable detail in the background. But when Evie is asked to impersonate Aveda for a night, everything changes. And as she tries to grapple with her new emotions and being in the limelight, Evie, along with Aveda and the Jupiter HQ team, also has to save the world. No big deal.

So we’ve got female protagonists, a whirlwind plot, and all the compelling complications of romance, friendship, and figuring out who you are. It centers two Asian Americans, but doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard in that vein. Instead, moments (like the one involving spam musubi) come naturally and intermittently. The diversity of other characters is equally casual, like the inclusion of Black Latino Asian bartender. And lest I forget, some thrilling love scenes that include safe sex (yes! consent and protection can be sexy and here’s the book that can make people believe it!).

Heroine Complex is fun, a page-turner, and despite the demons and magic and fantastical elements, very real and relatable. So I am here for this book.

I want to be serious for a moment. I read Heroine Complex the weekend after the shootings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the police officers in Dallas. My heart was aching from what’s going on in the world. I did not fully realize how much I needed an escape, albeit temporary and mental, until I was knee deep in the novel’s fantastical world. This book provided an unexpected dose of self-care, along with a hefty side of laughter and silliness. I would have enjoyed this regardless, but it added something extra for it to come at this time. So you’ll excuse me if this review is slightly more effusive than previous ones.

Heroine Complex is the kind of book I wish I had when I was younger and looking for characters that were like me. Ok, so Evie and Annie aren’t really like me, because they have superpowers and Evie can live out every dream of an underdog coming into her own, of the quieter behind-the-scenes person finding the strength to be the hero, but those are the kinds of stories I wanted. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that what was missing from the books I loved were characters that looked like me, reflected pieces of me that were never reflected in books inevitably filled with white people. It’s normal until you finally realize it shouldn’t be. So in many ways, this is a book I’ve been waiting for. I enjoyed it fully as an adult (and I’m sure other adults will too), but I also quietly thrill to know that this story is out there, because teenage me would have reveled in it too.

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About Lily

East Coast Chinese American. I like thick-skinned dumplings and hard-covered books.
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