Dreadnought by April Daniels
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I don't give five stars out lightly, but this book deserved them. At one and the same time a fine superhero tale and a startlingly powerful portrait of what it's like to be transgender, it weaves the two together seamlessly, and delivers both exciting plot and deep characterisation.
Danny has never felt like a boy, and so when the dying superhero Dreadnought passes his mantle on to the nearest bystander - Danny - the power transforms the teenager into Danielle.
She now has the basic Superman, or rather Supergirl, power set: flight, strength, invulnerability (slightly more limited than the Kryptonians). No heat vision, X-ray vision or freeze breath, though. Most of the possible variants on superpowers have already been rung over the past 80 years or so, and there's nothing startlingly new on that front here - there's even a passing mention of a billionaire with a utility belt and no powers - but that's fine. It's the personal journey of the superhero that we're concerned with here.
There certainly are a few familiar tropes: rescuing an airliner, for example. And when it comes to the transgender experience, there are some notes that anyone who's aware of what that community has to deal with will also find very familiar (because they really do happen all the time): the verbally and emotionally abusive, rejecting father; the "friend" who says terrible things; the radical feminist who refuses to accept a trans woman as a woman, who sees only a man invading women's space yet again. But all of these are dealt with in a way that I found emotionally true and deep. Seeing Danny simultaneously being a selfless, powerful, courageous superhero and thinking of herself as a selfish, powerless coward because of years of abuse was heartwrenching.
I can't give a higher recommendation than this: when I got to the end, if there had been a sequel available I would have bought it immediately. This book sets out to be a compelling superhero adventure and also an exploration of what it's like to be trans, and for my money succeeded admirably in both.
Speaking of money, I received (only) a review copy via NetGalley in exchange for my review.
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