Title: Secondhand Origin Stories
Author: Lee Blauersouth
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Opal has been planning to go to Chicago and join the Midwest’s superhero team, the Sentinels, since she was a little kid. That dream took on a more urgent tone when her superpowered dad was unjustly arrested for protecting a neighbor from an abusive situation. Now, she wants to be a superhero not only to protect people, but to get a platform to tell the world about the injustices of the Altered Persons Bureau, the government agency for everything relating to superpowers.
But just after Opal’s high school graduation, a supervillain with a jet and unclear motives attacks the downtown home of the Sentinels, and when Opal arrives, she finds a family on the brink of breaking apart. She meets a boy who’s been developing secret (and illegal) brain-altering nanites right under the Sentinel’s noses, another teenage superhero-hopeful who looks suspiciously like a long-dead supervillain, and the completely un-superpowered daughter of the Sentinels’ leader. Can four teens on the fringes of the superhero world handle the corruption, danger, and family secrets they’ve unearthed?
Where and how do I even begin? You know those stories that you only realized you desperately needed to read while reading them? This is one of them. Secondhand Origin Stories revolves around the lives of four teenage superheroes, and what’s remarkable about their group is the well-rounded diversity among themselves. I mean, let’s be honest, superheroes that identify as LGBTQ+, POC, and PWDs? That should be a norm instead of a rarity. It is rather unfortunate that we are still very much in the latter. (Content/Trigger warning: It should be noted that there are instances of ableism, systemic racism, and misgendering as well as content involving other sensitive issues in the book. However, these instances are addressed and corrected later on. Still, proceed with utmost caution.)
Nonetheless, Lee Blauersouth has written their diverse leads with sensitivity, complexity, and sincere thoughtfulness. Each one exhibits both a different kind of quiet vulnerability and, simultaneously, a unique brand of remarkable strength. Each one can be related to and sympathized with. And ultimately, each one has a compelling narrative to share with the readers.
Quite frankly, actual antagonists of the story aside (I mean, they’re the antagonists for a reason, okay), there was not any character that I completely disliked. All of the cast, including those in the supporting roles, were fleshed out dimensionally and were understandably flawed. I did not necessarily like, say, the Sentinel’s leader but I could, at the very least, sympathize with him – and I think that’s one of the major highlights of the Secondhand Origin Stories: the idea that regardless of who we are and what we identify as, we are, by the end of the day, inherently human with a natural tendency to be human to a fault (if that makes any sense). Being a superhero is not synonymous with being perfect, nor does it entail that a superhero always knows the right thing to do.
Throughout the story, I could not help but really think about the morality and underlying motives behind every character’s action. I was also constantly reminded of the question featured on the book’s cover: Who is allowed to be a hero? This was particularly applicable to Jamie, who is inarguably my favorite character in the book. Coming from the most renowned and respected family of superheroes but living without any powers of her own, what Jamie lacked in power and brute strength, she more than made up for with admirable tenacity and fierce loyalty.
As interestingly nuanced as the characters were, I found the dynamics of the character relationships to be equally fascinating. Moreover, as someone who’s been waiting for the sequel to Disney’s The Incredibles for more than a decade now, I was more than eager to dive into the lives and relationships within the Sentinels. And I was certainly not disappointed. The story was largely, heavily centered on the ins and outs as well as the ups and downs of a superhero family. It was extremely interesting to me how ordinary family drama could play out so realistically in a family of superpowered people, albeit with much higher stakes involved.
The writing was not as polished as I’d have preferred and a small part of me yearned for a slightly faster pace (and perhaps a bit more of that Marvel-esque action), but knowing myself, I’m really just unreasonably picky. All in all, however, I have so many positive things to say about Secondhand Origin Stories that I’d probably end up writing half an entire novel (or maybe a a post enumerating nine reasons that make reading this book an immediate priority – hint, hint). What I loved the most, though, was its themes.
Although the book’s synopsis did hint at government corruption, the story did more than merely featuring an elite faction of power-hungry, unjust leaders. Brimming with social and political relevance – a relevance that has been amplified by the problematic and oppressive climate we are currently facing in real life, Secondhand Origin Stories valiantly attacks globally encompassing, systemic issues, such as racism, marginalization, and inequalities across all intersections, while simultaneously navigating through more individual-centered issues, such as coming to terms with one’s identity and learning to differentiate between what defines a person and what shouldn’t. I am still totally blown away that Lee Blauersouth was able to thoroughly explore all these ideas without ever compromising the quality of the plot’s execution. I don’t know about you, but that takes a whole lot of talent and skill.
Effective writing, impressive world-building, wonderfully intricate plot, well-delivered action sequences, and a tremendous impact that unfailingly resonates with the heart of humanity. In all seriousness, in all my years of reading, Lee Blauersouth’s incredible YA debut novel is the most underrated, underappreciated title I’ve ever encountered – and that definitely needs to change immediately. Vastly powerful and all the more empowering, Secondhand Origin Stories demands to be read, loved, and ultimately, internalized.
Disclosure: I received a digital copy of Secondhand Origin Stories from the author in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Lee Blauersouth for the copy as well as for the opportunity to organize this blog tour!
Excerpt from the book:
The whole system was a disaster, and Detroit was a microcosm of every single way it was broken. Detroit had no superhero team, and never had, though it was by far the most altered city in the US. Instead, it had a police force with army-grade gear and military tactics. The bureau had never endorsed the protective actions of any altered civilian in the city. There was trial after trial for altered who had protected people, and every one of them was convicted and jailed. The sentences so much longer than they should be.
That led her to reading how thoroughly that mirrored racial issues in the larger criminal justice system. Racial minorities were, across the board, hugely more likely to be arrested than given warnings. More likely to serve longer sentences. More likely to be arrested young. Really young. More likely to be fatally shot by police. More likely to die in prison. More likely to have their kids taken away forever because they were locked up.
With the altered, a lot of the charges were especially nonsensical. Anyone who wasn’t white was ten times more likely to be imprisoned on drug charges. But since most drugs didn’t even work normally in the system of an altered, they were all automatically charged with intention to sell, which was a felony. As far as Jamie could tell, a black person found in the same house as drugs could be convicted of a felony for just that. And they kept arresting whole households at once, even taking in anyone who was just visiting the house. The trials were short, and didn’t seem to matter much.
And Jamie had exposed Opal to it. Put her in the path of APB guards with guns, made her look like a suspect to anyone who expected to see a suspect, instead of someone who’d just wanted to help.
23 April (Monday)
- Secondhand Origin Stories blog tour launch
- Excerpt from Stuffed Shelves
- Feature post from The Backwards Bookshelf
- Feature post from Candid Ceillie
- Review from The Backwards Bookshelf
- Review from Crimson Blogs
- Review from Samantha House
24 April (Tuesday)
- Excerpt from Not Just Fiction
- Excerpt from Utopia State of Mind
- Feature post from Unputdownable Books
- Review from That Bookshelf Bitch
- Review from Bookish and Awesome
- Review from Cliste Bella
- Review from wallflower’s plight
25 April (Wednesday)
- Excerpt from BookMyHart
- Excerpt from The Nerdy Elite
- Review from Candid Ceillie
- Review from F A N N A
- Review from forthenovellovers
- Review from Igniting Pages
- Review from Spines In a Line
26 April (Thursday)
- Excerpt from Provocatrix
- Review from Bookish Wanderess
- Review from bookishwisps
- Review from Flying Paperbacks
- Review from TheHufflepuffNerdette
- Review from My Reading List
- Review from Unputdownable Books
27 April (Friday)