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Superpowers: A Novel Paperback – June 10, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Schwartz borrows heavily from classic comic books in this eager-to-please but unsatisfying debut. After five college friends wake up after a night of partying to discover they have superpowers, they band together as the All Stars, supernatural crime fighters straight out of Madison, Wis. From there, the plot packs few surprises: the team—Charlie, Jack, Harriet, Mary Beth and Caroline—embark on dozens of good Samaritan adventures. While it's entertaining enough (in a pulpy way) for a while, characters remain mostly static, and the narrative never attains any sort of urgency, so that by the time 9/11 comes into play—and, regrettably, it does—the text reads like an ill-considered parody. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School—Five college students in Madison, WI, drink some home brew together one May evening in 2001 and the next morning they each have a new power. One can fly, one is superstrong, one can run faster than the eye can see, one can become invisible, and one can read minds. They spend some time learning about the limits of their superpowers, but, eventually, they decide to use their newfound abilities to do what they can to help society—stopping crimes, solving crimes, rescuing those in danger, and so on. The premise of this first novel sounds lighthearted, and there certainly are funny moments. But Schwartz seems more interested in the confusing and difficult aspects of having such talents. He doesn't worry about how the powers came to be, or why each person got his or her particular one. Instead, he asks: Whom do you tell? How do you conduct an ordinary life? What is the difference between being a crime fighter and being a vigilante? What are these new powers doing to one's physical and psychological well-being? This is a thoughtful but entertaining novel, with interesting characters. It is respectful of the genre of the superhero comic book, while taking the concept in a different direction.—Sarah Flowers, Santa Clara County Library, CA
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 377 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books (June 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307394409
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307394408
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,026,038 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, the home of Ice Palaces and steamy hot summers. When I was seven, I played with Star Wars figurines with my friend Matt. Since neither of us had yet seen the movie, we made up stories about the characters while having only a vague idea of who they were. Later, I read the Marvel adaptation and then saw the movie.

I speak adequate Norwegian, poor Spanish, and have forgotten 85% of the eight years of French that I took. I can sing but not play guitar, at least not well. I used to play tuba. I prefer kids and dogs to most adults. I am 42 now, and after some time in Chicago and Madison I live back in Saint Paul, where I hope to remain. I still make up stories about characters, but now I get to decide who they are.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Nat Zorach on June 25, 2008
Format: Paperback
Let me start off by saying that this was an entertaining read. The characters (while neither very developed nor very interesting) are pretty plausible, the premise of the story is interesting enough, and the editorial intervention of observer Marcus Hatch is priceless.

There are some major structural problems with the story. My biggest problem is that the characters are too similar for the reader to be able to easily differentiate them. No sooner do we get introduced to the characters does Schwartz start jumping around (each character has their own third person narrative) and it often becomes extremely difficult to tell who's doing what and why. Too many names thrown around, too few differences or idiosyncrasies.

Dialogue also sometimes seems contrived in a television serial sort of way-- somewhat unnatural, unproductive filler. I'm not sure what the characters are trying to achieve.

The story develops nicely. Essentially, the All-Stars, the superpower-endowed heroes (or antiheroes?) find they have neither a know-how for being superheroes, nor a society which can afford to let them roam free. Schwartz effectively develops this quandary through the climax, an extremely confusing combination of events with dozens of different characters in which the All-Stars finally come to terms with the fact that neither they nor their society can handle their superpowers.

[POSSIBLE SPOILER WARNING] The concluding chapter(s) of the book is interesting, though, because it makes us wonder about the nature of truth. Who knows what is real and what isn't real? The escapades of the All-Stars are plausible and enjoyable from an entertainment standpoint, but the concluding editorial section makes us think twice-- perhaps about the whole story.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David MCNETT on August 11, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a genre I usually enjoy and I wanted to love this book but reading it left me cold. The story meanders around for a few hundred pages and then sort of fizzles out with no real conflict ever introduced or resolution achieved. In the absence of a compelling story arc I'd expect to see a strong focus on characterization and dialog but the novel falls even flatter on that front. The multitude of characters are one-dimensional with few distinctions. I found it difficult to keep track of who was who. They experience no growth over the plot arc and the dialog is adolescent and shallow. Quick read, and had its high points, but on the whole I found it lacking.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Eric D. Honaker on August 6, 2008
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is one of those books that makes me wish I could put in half-star ratings. I am not ready to go 5 stars (it was amazing!) with this book, but it's definitely superior to other books I'd consider four stars.

I recently read and reviewed Soon I Will Be Invincible, another superhero novel. Superpowers is almost the conceptual inverse of that book.

This novel dealt in a sober and realistic way with what would happen to a group of friends who suddenly developed superpowers. There are no supervillains, no secret pacts with the police commissioner, no mighty halls of justice. Just five friends, lost, confused, and trying to deal with something they don't understand. The group decides to do what they can to help their city, but they're just as human as the rest of us, and their actions end up with real consequences.

The author doesn't reject comic book convention so much as he ignores it completely. Despite the fact that the world as described is clearly impacted by comics (Several well known DC and Marvel properties are mentioned in character discussions), I never felt like there was a list of comic book tropes to be trashed or followed. The story seemed like a logical progression of events as they would unfold. Assuming, of course, that they possessors of these powers decided to help people rather than rob banks or get rich on the talk show circuit. :)

The book's climax was gripping, moving, upsetting, and wonderful.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Armchair Interviews on July 1, 2008
Format: Paperback
These are not your average comic book super heroes. Superpowers is a novel describing what happens when five young people wake up one morning to discover they have superpowers. Charlie can read minds while Jack is super fast. Harriet can become invisible; Caroline flies, and Mary Beth is super strong. Life is far from simple for these newly minted superheroes. It takes them a while to learn to control their powers, and longer to decide whether they should be using their powers to make their community safer.

Once they embark on their career as the All-Stars, Madison is polarized between the people who think the new vigilante group is great and those who want to track them down and stop them. The All-Stars also learn that life is far from simple even for super heroes. Their actions have unexpected consequences, and their powers exact a price.

David Schwartz gives us a glimpse of what might happen if ordinary people suddenly gained extraordinary powers. The book is told by a narrator, who also appears as a minor character in the story. It is a device that works very well. Schwartz is able to hint at coming problems without being too heavy handed. The characters of the five heroes are well developed and their life situations are realistic. As in all the best stories, you will find both humor and tragedy in this novel. The ending shows that the powers of super heroes have limits, but that ordinary people may be able to move past those limits.

David Schwartz has penned a fable for our time. Even the best of intentions may go awry, and nobody can control their own destiny completely. He shows both the fear and the strength of our society. Superpowers or not, he challenges us to take responsibility for our lives and our actions.

I found Superpowers to be a fun and satisfying read.

Armchair Interviews says: A most-interesting novel.
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