Tuesday, 10 June 2014

More sad superheroes

Full title: The Twelve-Fingered Boy
Author: John Hornor Jacobs
Genre: Fiction, speculative
Attributes: 264 pages, hard cover
Publisher: Carolrhoda Lab (2013)
On the scale of Zero to OneZero (i.e. borrowed from local library)

There’s something about superheroes that makes them good candidates for prisons. That’s where the protagonists of John Hornor Jacobs’ The Twelve-Fingered Boy start they journey. They are two boys with outstanding attributes: one can cause explosions, the other can control minds. What a perfect tandem. And yet, they have their share of misfortunes. Of course they have them. Would we call them superheroes otherwise?
Shreve and Jack perform in a world that’s utterly strange to them. They have pasts darker than the darkness in the soul of the inevitable villain relentlessly in their pursuit. Says Shreve (full name Shreveport Justice Cannon):
“I’m fifteen. I can’t get a job. I don’t have a driver’s license. And I’ve got a record. Jack is just thirteen. Two kids alone in the wilderness, two kids alone in the city.”
They’ve just escaped from a correctional institution. They are fugitives now: homeless, restless, careless runaways. Plagued by parental problems, chased by authorities, they have time on their hands and they use it to do some good: they save a girl from the terror of her own imprisonment, one that is more horrible than their own.

Source: The Guardian
The prison theme runs through the novel like a red thread. It’s not only the one where they boys had been detained (Casimir Pulaski Juvenile Detention Center for Boys). There are also prisons of the self and imprisonments by the strictures and inflexibilities of society. Everything with the potential to cause rebellion in a teenager is there. Everything with the potential to cause them to run away from home, to challenge justice and to find it lacking, to get into trouble, to have their share of youthful misgivings – is there. The book is a YA novel: a text about growing too quickly when the immediate environment is too willing to eliminate one’s singularity. That’s why the tone becomes philosophical at times, why the narrative voice turns wise, and why it develops this peculiar ability for introspection. Every time he enters another’s mind, Shreve waxes lyrical:
“I hurl myself through the darkness between lights, and I invade Weasel. On all fronts, I attack. I feel his senses, his eyes, his skin. He can hear and taste me. I fill his mind with me, my presence, that part of me that is nothing but me – not body, not habit, not blood or flesh, but me.”
In spite of all appearances, the protagonists have no dark intentions. They perform their superheroic deeds only when they have no chance. But when they do, they’re devastating. The powers they handle are powers that conquer (minds) and destroy (bodies). They’re well aware of the implications. They know, with the wisdom of maturity, that superpowers bring about supertrouble. They are reluctant heroes. They fight their own demons while fighting the demons that want to restrain their moves.
As such, The Twelve-Fingered Boy is a Bildungsroman: a novel of growth, development, evolution, ripening. It’s the story of teenagers growing into men; superpowers and obstructions and all. The story, that is, of any adolescent in the world.