Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Book of the Week: BATGIRL AT SUPER HERO HIGH by Lisa Yee

First Paragraph(s): Oh, sure, there were injuries. Lumps and bruises were an occupational hazard. Sometimes it was because a muscle-bound metahuman was momentarily careless when working out in Wildcat’s phys ed class. Or because a flyer took a turn a tad too sharply and slammed into a wall (or a fellow student or the cafeteria) at full speed. Or because of something like what had just happened: an invading interstellar alien army had targeted the student population for total enslavement to the powers of evil…which was all part of the daily routine at Super Hero High School. And most of the super heroes in training loved it. 
Now, as the young heroes flew, ran, stretched, strolled, and teleported into the auditorium, they laughed and congratulated each other. They admired their new casts and bandages and bruises. Never had so many been so sore—and so happy about it.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this over the course of this blog, Esteemed Reader, but I'm something of a fan of Batman and other superheroes. As I recently told you in a post featuring a Batman gif, I'm plunging myself back into the world of middle grade writing and working on a second adventure for Banneker Bones, my character based on Batman.

Lisa Yee is a middle grade author I've wanted to feature here since I read her wonderful Millicent Min, Girl Genius and she'll be here on Thursday, so look forward to that. When I saw she was writing the Super Hero High series, I wanted to read it at once (and so will you when I tell you more). Batgirl and Supergirl are two of my favorite characters and Lisa Yee is an author I admire, so I knew I was in for a treat. And this was the perfect book for me to read in preparation for my own project.

What a fun series this is! It's clever and hit all the right notes for a middle grade book for girls about girls that can also amuse a grown man who still likes his comics. Super Hero High is like Hogwarts if Hogwarts had way cooler students based on DC characters. Personally, I would never want to go back to high school unless it was Super Hero High, and then I might consider it, because I'd love to take these classes:

In PE, instead of running laps around a track, they were often asked to run laps around the city. And in Weaponomics, they were learning about devices that could cause mass destruction—or save the world. As the school’s part-time tech wizard, Batgirl had seen it all.

As Principal Amanda Waller warns Barbara Gordon, A.K.A. Batgirl:

This isn’t like your old high school. Here, we train students to save lives, make the world a better place, and lead by example. There are villains who will aim to bring you and the world down. We have to be prepared for that.”






Obviously, as Amanda Waller is principal of a high school, Super Hero High is set in its own continuity separate from any other DC story. Although I can't say for certain as Harley Quinn's Super Hero High book doesn't come out until January, I'm guessing she didn't fall in love with the Joker after obtaining her doctorate in kindergarten. I'm also betting money that Batgirl won't be shot in the spine and paralyzed before the end of the series, though Yee does endow her with all the technical know how she'll need if she ever does become Oracle. 

In this version of the DC Universe, Dr. Arkham is a school counselor, which strikes me as rather ominous. More fun, Crazy Quilt is teaching costume making, and Red Tornado and Comissioner James Gordon are on the faculty as well (more on him in a moment). Steve Trevor is working at the local Capes and Cowls Cafe and wouldn't you know it, Batgirl's classmate Wonder Woman (the girl) has a crush on him. The reader is running into other characters from the DC universe every other chapter, sometimes literally:

“Barbara reporting to Supergirl. Supergirl, do you read me?” 
Her wafer-thin com bracelet crackled before she heard “Oops, ouch! Sorry! Sorry.” There was a moment of silence, followed by a loud thud, and then Supergirl’s voice came in. “Hey there, BFF. I flew too fast and The Flash was running too fast and we had a major collision. But we’re both okay. At least, I think we are. He looks sort of wobbly. What’s up?”

Sorry fellas, but the focus of this series is on the female characters of the DCU, most of them as teenagers. Aside from the Flash and Cyborg, I didn't spot a teenage Auquaman, or even Robin. But I think I would've enjoyed this series even as a teenage boy as superheroes of both sexes make for the most fun adventures.There are plenty of stories focusing on teenage Superman, but that's for another series.




Yee is careful to maintain the essential essence of every character in the DCU without being a slave to the source material. Yes, Harley's a bit crazy, but mostly about media and her own fame, and one gets the sense that in this version of the DCU, she might grow up to be... not good, exactly, but not bad bad either. As for Barbara Gordon, who mostly goes by the name Batgirl in school, Yee has lots of fun along the way with an oh-so-slight rearranging of her mythology:

Batgirl was relieved that she got to keep her annex, or as she referred to it, her Barbara-Assisted Technology Bunker. This was also called the Bat-Bunker.

Of all the characters present, I felt that Batgirl was the most true to her comic book self. When Red Tornado insists the teen super heroes learn to drive non-super-people vehicles so they can blend in as necessary (half of them will grow up to have secret identities, after all), Barbara naturally chooses the motorcycle, because it is her destiny.




Yee wisely shifts the novel's focus from the superhero aspects of our teen superheroes' lives to the more universal situations faced even by regular human teenagers without superpowers. At the end of the day, this is primarily a story about a girl and her father readers know from Batman comics, which is what most Batgirl stories have always been about. Commissioner Gordon wants his little girl to be safe and needs to learn to back off, Barbara Gordon wants to be a super hero, but needs to remember her father cares about her and has her best interest at heart. Though I did find it quite funny that Gordon, who is on the faculty at Super Hero High, wants his daughter to go to Gotham City High School where she'll be safe. It's like, Bro, do you even read Batman comics?

What makes Yee's version of Batgirl all the more interesting is that she employs an intellectual response to her problems the same as her young readers can. This is how she handles her father's objections to her attending a school for superheroes:

Barbara knew she couldn’t argue with her dad’s feelings. She also knew he couldn’t argue with facts. Employing complex computer graphs and charts featuring a matrix of statistics to support her argument and supplemented by state-of-the-art videos, she worked deep into the night. 
The next day was Saturday. That afternoon Barbara invited her father into the living room. Her presentation took over an hour, and as Commissioner Gordon sat in his favorite chair nodding, neither smiling nor frowning, Barbara piled fact upon fact and reason upon reason as to why she should be allowed to go to Super Hero High.

It's good that Barbara is ready to use her brain, as she's at a school where most of the students outmatch her in the brawn department. Most of her fellow students "were born with powers, or developed special skills at a young age. Her peers had been nurtured at super hero preschools, then super hero elementary and middle schools. Conversely, Batgirl was a latecomer and had to make up for a lot of lost time." 

In doing everything she can to fit in with superheroes, not to mention running most of the school's IT needs, and taking care of a sick bat, and also competing in a reality show, Batgirl runs herself down and has to learn how to manage her time and her life, which is a lesson needed by most teens and their parents and everyone:

“People think I’m stressed,” she told him. “But really, I’m not. Okay, okay, maybe a little. Sometimes. But not all the time. Not when I’m asleep!” She let out a too-loud laugh. Batgirl kept dreaming about all the things she was supposed to get done and would wake up exhausted


Batgirl at Super Hero High is a fun story filled with beloved characters used in new and interesting ways. It's chock full of humor and charm and soars high (look at me, I'm Gene Shalit!). Although, even in the fantastical world of the DCU, one still runs across the occasional troll.

“NO!” he yelled. The sides of his mouth curled downward and there was insult in his eyes. “Not you!” 
Batgirl stopped. 
“In my day, super heroes could fly and move buildings, and were all men. NOT GIRLS!” Mr. Morris grumbled. 
Batgirl continued to remove the shoes, then lent a hand to help him up. 
“Next time,” he grumbled, “I want a real super hero, not a girl.”

Me, I just say that adds a degree of realism to a story, that while unrealistic, is absolutely accessible to younger readers. You should absolutely add this series to your reading list and for sure check back here on Thursday to see Lisa Yee face the 7 Questions. 



As always, I'll leave you with some of my favorite passages from Batgirl at Super Hero High:


No one dared move, and Miss Martian couldn’t because Killer Frost had just frozen her, “as a joke.” The only sound in the cavernous auditorium was a tiny ping coming from Cyborg’s internal circuitry.

 Batgirl felt an icy chill go through her entire body. “Ice to meet you,” Captain Cold said.

"When you meet new people, you should always hit them hard, and if that doesn’t work, hit them harder. Remember to always lead with a punch. BOOM!” 
“When I meet someone new, I prefer to lead with a smile,” Batgirl said, offering her one. 
Barda looked at her with suspicion.


Everyone applauded and Cyborg smiled. He had a nice smile. Cyborg lifted his arm to wave, and wave, and wave. It wasn’t until a minute had passed that Batgirl realized he was malfunctioning and couldn’t stop waving.

The library installation had gone well. Now students were able to access books and resource material from their dorm rooms, space vehicles, anywhere—though many still congregated at the heavy wooden tables in the library that were lit with old-fashioned green banker’s lamps. 
“It feels so awesomely retro and academic to study in here,” Hawkgirl whispered. 
“I know!” Batgirl agreed. “I know…but this is where all the knowledge is. I love the smell of information in this room.” 
Just as she was about to sniff an old leather-bound copy of Ra’s al Ghul’s The Decline of the Ancient World, someone cried, “THERE YOU ARE!”







STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn’t happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own. 

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