Book Review: Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain by Richard Roberts
In a world where superheroes and supervillains are locked in honorable combat… in a world where science and magic are both real… in a world where superheroism is an inherited trait… three middle-school students are about to discover their true potential.
The book: Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain. The author: Richard Roberts. The review: now!
Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain is a middle-grade novel (and a rather long one for that age group) about Penelope Akk, Claire Lutra, and Ray Viles, three geeky middle-schoolers in Los Angeles. Claire’s mother is the now-reformed supervillain The Minx; Penny’s mother is The Audit and her father is Brian “Brainy” Akk; and as for Ray… well, more on him shortly. Told from Penny’s point-of-view, it’s mostly about how Penny just wants to get her superpowers. Her best friend Claire is already starting to inherit The Minx’s ability to cloud people’s minds, and Penny just knows that between her dad’s ability to reverse-engineer pretty much anything and her mom’s knowledge of statistics and probability she’s just got to get some sort of powers.
And then, to her surprise — and her parents’ — she does. One day while messing around after school, Penny’s power kicks in hard-core: even though she doesn’t know the science behind it, she creates The Machine, a quasi-intelligent voice-activated mechanical aid that can do pretty much anything Penny tells it to.
The problem is that her parents don’t think her power is all that “super” just yet; they say it was just a flash. So Penny sets out to prove them wrong. Along the way she develops several other technological aids, as well as a biochemical serum that gives Ray super-powers and enhances Claire’s physical abilities. But it’s not until they face off against Miss A (one of their nemeses at the middle school) that they realize just what they’ve become.
They’re supervillains. Specifically, they’re a supervillain team of Bad Penny, E-Claire, and Reviled. In short: The Inscrutable Machine.
Penny’s ultimate goal is to be a superhero like her parents, but once she and her friends are named as supervillains they decide they can flip to being superheroes whenever they want — plenty of other supervillains Penny’s and Claire’s parents know have done just that, including Lucyvar (who claims to be the Princess of Lies, Lucifer herself) and even Claire’s mom. However, once the Inscrutable Machine figures out just how good they are at supervillainy, the question isn’t so much “how will we turn into superheroes?” but “how can we switch sides when the city’s most notorious supervillain has just assigned us a job that we can’t possibly refuse?”
Please… hits a lot of buttons for me: intelligent middle-grade main character, superheroes and supervillians in a world alongside our own, kids using their knowledge and abilities to surpass what the adults can do, and realistic moral dilemmas… inasmuch as a book about an eighth-grade mad scientist (Penny’s definitely that) can be. It moves along quickly — Penny’s powers manifest in the second chapter — and it’s full of puns (“Brainy” Akk, for one), situational humor, and enough snark to take out even the most straightforward of readers. Plus, as the book progresses, our heroes (our villains?) are forced to use more and more ingenuity to defeat their opponents until finally they come face-to-face with one of the most powerful superheroes in their world: The Librarian.
Where does the book fall down? Mostly in that Penny, Claire, and Ray never seem to lose, not once they get their feet under them. Penny’s power is vague enough that she can make pretty much anything the Inscrutable Machine needs, and with that ability there’s no adult superhero (or supervillain) who can stop them. Additionally, the fact that Penny’s parents never seem to figure out that Penny is Bad Penny (owing mostly to a ton of coincidences) wears a bit thin, especially since Penny’s mother is one of the most feared superheroes who ever lived — not because she’s super-powerful, but because she’s super-analytical and can pick out patterns in almost anything. Finally, although the author takes great pains to make the Inscrutable Machine’s opponents believable, I still found it hard to believe the frequency with which the Machine took out supervillains and superheroes who’d been doing this longer than any of them had been alive — some of them longer than all three of their ages combined.
But much in the same way that a reader must suspend disbelief to read a comic book about a guy who shoots lasers out of his eyes or watch a movie about a rich loner with a gravelly voice and bat-everything, so too must readers suspend belief to read this novel. In doing so, they’ll find themselves on a wild ride with one of the most dynamic young supervillain teams in print today.
Please Don’t Tell My Parents I’m a Supervillain is available in e-book and paperback from Curiosity Quills Press.
About the Author
Josh Roseman (not the trombonist; the other one) lives in Georgia. His fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Escape Pod, and the Crossed Genres anthology Fat Girl in a Strange Land, among others. His voice has been heard around the fiction podosphere as well, including here on Escape Pod. Find him online at roseplusman.com, or on Twitter @listener42.
Note to Parents: This book is appropriate for all middle-grade audiences. There is no explicit violence or adult content, although there are some intense moments. No adult language beyond the occasional “crap”, either. I would feel comfortable reading this book to my almost-eight-year-old, who is currently reading the Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett. Of course, you should use your own best judgment when it comes to your children.