How to Save a Superhero by Ruth Freeman


How to Save a Superhero by Ruth Freeman. Holiday House, 2021. 9780823447626

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 3.5

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Fantasy/mystery

What did you like about the book? Fifth-grader Addie and her (rebellious) mom Tish have moved around a lot since the death of Addie’s beloved Granny Lu. Now they’re doubled up with Uncle Tim so that Tish can start a new job as an aid at the Happy Valley Village Retirement Community. Addie starts hanging out there after school and bonds with Dickson, a bullied 4th grader who’s mom turns out to be the grumpy and slightly mean HVV manager, Mrs. Sloat. Dickson introduces Addie to all the residents of HVV, who run the gambit from smart and sly Minerva (with her bright red scooter) to slightly dotty Mrs. Firillo with her little dog Izzy. But most intriguing is grumpy Mr. Norris, who keeps a silvery super suit in his closet and whom the children come to believe possesses strange powers.  Addie and Dickson are eventually joined by Marwa, a recent immigrant from Iraq, who helps them uncover Mr. Norris’s secret identity and save him, aided by the other residents and staff, from a cabal of rapacious corporate types. I liked the novel’s unusual setting and its cast of senior citizens, who turned out to be surprisingly capable. Because of Addie’s strong connection to her Granny Lu, it made sense to me that she would be interested in and bond with the HVV residents, although that ease wouldn’t necessarily have been believable for all 11-year-olds.  This was a gentle story, with no coarseness, battles, scares, or corpses. All characters cue as White except for Marwa and her mom.

Anything you didn’t like about it? It was a little corny. The bad guy (trying to pass as a resident’s long-lost nephew and local journalist) was transparently up to no good. Also, the superhero backstory (exposure to radiation) and the dramatic deus ex machina arrival of the Superhero Guild to save the day felt both underdeveloped and rushed in the end. 

To whom would you recommend this book?  I could see this being a solid choice for a younger student who happens to be a strong reader. The busy cast of seniors and the ebb and flow of their activities and days are almost more interesting than the superhero plot, although who doesn’t love the idea of finding a magical flying car in a dusty locked garage? Recommended for fans of Andrew Clements or Jacqueline Davies.

Who should buy this book? Elementary and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: December 4, 2021

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