I don’t typically read YA novels. Haven’t since I was in high school and was forced to read them. So yea, haven’t opened a cover of Harry Potter, or read Twilight, or even the Hunger Games series. But I do love a good action story, especially when it’s of the superhero comic variety. So that was enough for me to give Michael Bailey’s debut novel Action Figures a read.
And I’m so glad that I did.
The story takes place in the present day and super heroes are a real thing, patrolling the streets and sky for situations too big for local law enforcement to handle. Our (super) heroine is Carrie Hauser, a high school girl who’s starting life anew in a new town. Her parents went through a divorce over the summer, so life has been a little rocky at best. She also has super powers (I won’t tell you how she got them) that allows her to fly, glow like a bright light, and fire powerful beams of light at her adversaries. At high school she meets some other kids with unusual gifts. And, of course, there are bad guys to handle. At the beginning it’s just military robots gone bad, but the stakes get higher with each passing go.
The characters are all fun and unique. Carrie, as already noted, can fly at high speeds, glows and can shoot power light beams. Than there’s Matt, aka Captain Trenchcoat, who can make anything appear from his coat that he can think of. He’s also a superhero nut, having memorized every heroes tech and history from A to Z. He wants so badly to be a successful superhero and leader of the group. There’s Sara, aka Psyhce, who can read minds and put up psyonic barriers to protect herself and the team. I’ll also note that I love how Michael explains Sara’s powers. It’s such amazing faux-science that it’s very believable in this world he’s created. Then there’s Stuart, aka Superbeast. He’s your rock loving, long-hair “dude” kinda guy, but his skin is almost impenetrable and he’s got superhuman strength. Oh and he eats…. a lot. I wonder where he gets enough money to eat out so much sometimes… And he hates bullies… a lot. There’s also Missy, aka Kunoichi, who’s got super speed and agility. She’s the ninja of the group.
Then, of course, there’s Carrie, aka Lightstorm.
One of the biggest complaints of male writers is their inability to write multi-dimensional female characters. Michael Bailey, however, does not fall under this category. His female characters are believable and as complex as the men and boys running around in the story (funny that, eh?). Also, the idea of writing a lead character much younger than yourself is a daunting task, but one Michael took up and nailed with Carrie Hauser. She’s highly intelligent but still falls victim to the same adolescent issues we all faced with growing up.
Of course, they’re not the only superheroes around. The main team of heroes in the Boston-area is the Protectorate, led by Concorde and Mindforce. While Mindforce plays good cop with the young superhero teens, Concorde touts the bad cop. He’s a fantastic superhero, but doesn’t give Carrie and her friends much encouragement and shows little respect for the team. They struggle with why Concorde is such a jerk towards them.
There’s also the roster of villains which range from hacked robots to highly payed and deadly super villain mercenaries with their own array of gadgets, abilities, and powers.
As for the plot, it’s rock solid. There are no gaping holes that take you out of the story, and the scenes all flow nicely together in a very logical manner. These teenagers are new at the whole super hero gig and it shows in the book. They go through growing pains, saving the day but with a lot of collateral damage at first, but getting better at the whole teamwork thing as the stakes get higher. They also struggle coming up their superhero names, their costumes, and even a team name for their superhero squad, creating some very amusing scenes in the novel.
And it’s not just a story about teenagers learning to be superheros. They have lives outside of their extracurricular activities. Carrie is settling into a new town and school, and she’s still having trouble over her parents divorce. Missy is terribly embarrassed by her dad’s strictness, and Stuart has to come to grips with demons from his past resurface at school.
Overall, the story is fantastically written and it’s been a while since I’ve picked up a book that’s as much of a page turner as this one. I usually read on my way to and from work, and I really wished my commute was a little longer so I could read more of the story. I think that speaks volumes to Michael’s talent, especially considering that I don’t do YA books.
Verdict: I highly recommend Action Figures to parents looking for a new, adventure story for their kids to read, or anyone who enjoys new, original superhero tales full of action and amazing character development. I look forward to the sequel.