December 15, 2011

Off the Shelf: Charlotte Powers: Power Down (Young Adult Novel)

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Written by: AHudson
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Title: Charlotte Powers: Power Down
Author: Ben White
Illustrator: Ben White

With the explosion of the Young Adult novels in the book industry and many of them taking on supernatural (e.g. Twilight) and action (e.g. The Hunger Games) themes, it was only a matter of time until superheroes got made into Young Adult novels. There’s been Young Adult books that have covered heroes (Wearing the Cape) and villains (Confessions of a D-List Supervillain). As well as Charlotte Powers: Power Down, which is part of the new wave of Young Adult superhero novels.

For starters, CP:PD is a Young Adult novel in the truer classic sense of the term. A good deal of Young Adult novels, like Twilight or The Hunger Games, are more books with sensibilities geared towards juniors and seniors in high school. Kind of like films that remove all of the blood and swearing to earn a PG-13 rating. Charlotte Powers: Power Down has sensibilities more towards freshmen and sophomores in highs school (or perhaps younger). I’m not saying that older people can’t enjoy it, but just be prepared to read something aimed towards younger “adults” than you might have expected.

Now, most superhero fiction (outside of comic books and adaptations) falls into two categories. Emulation. Which is works that take a more serious approach to making their own superhero world, and often uses elements from the bronze and modern age of comic books. And satire. Which isn’t necessarily satirical, but it often has a more tongue in cheek approach to creating their superhero world, and often uses elements from the golden and silver age of comic books. CP:PD definitely falls into the satire category.

For the first tenth or so of the novel, I was afraid that I was going to have to give CP:PD a particularly nasty review. Not because it was a young Young Adult novel nor because it fell into the satirical category. But I felt like it was almost too satirical. Too much cheekiness and pseudo science/terms, and not enough things to pull me in. The beginning of the novel starts with Charlotte Powers being stuck with the rest of her family in their Fortress of Solitude (not actually called that, but that’s what it basically is) and wanting to get out. It felt like The Invincibles, but if the family was stuck in one location and didn’t do much of anything.

However, I believe that everyone should read a third of a novel before they think about putting it down, and have to get through half of the novel before they can come up with their own damn opinion. Which is a good thing, because at about 20% of the novel, things get interesting, and at 50% of the novel, things really kick off. Once Charlotte Powers convinces her family that she needs to get out of the fortress and teleports to a school (living on her own), that’s when the novel starts heading into a good direction. It’s not just that she goes to school for the first time, but also for the first time Charlotte suddenly loses all of her powers (hence the title). She quickly becomes a very unpopular kid at school, starting when her guitar intro (literally, playing a guitar as she walks into class) goes haywire and everything fails. The only real friend she has is Charlotte Crescent (a.k.a. “C2”), a kind-hearted girl who happens to lack emotion.

I actually like the non-superhero parts of this novel much more than any of the superhero stuff and action. But your mileage may vary since I’ve always been a fan of character over plot. If you’re more of a plot kind of person, then perhaps the fact that there’s something mysterious and sinister going on in the school will keep you turning the pages.

Ben White’s greatest strength is writing the voice of Charlotte Powers. When you read the book, you really do get a fifteen-year-old girl’s voice in your head. And more importantly, Charlotte really does come off as a believable fifteen-year-old kid. Likewise, the greatest weakness of this book is the voicing. Because she’s fifteen years old, and there’s this REALLY big problem you know? And like, there’s some supervillain she has to deal with, but not having powers is totally NOT cool. However, after that 20% mark, you’ll start getting used to the near stream of consciousness first person writing.

You know what this book ultimately reminds me of? A Disney Channel movie. And before anyone thinks I threw a complete insult, I mean the old Disney Channel movies like Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century (though CP:PD is a bit more mature). You know, it’s tongue in cheek, it’s for a younger audience than you, but if you just accept that and go with the flow, you might enjoy it.

If you would like to purchase a copy of the book, you can do so here.

Andrew Hudson

This book was provided by Ben White.



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