Superman has always been my least favorite superhero, so I was never thrilled to start listening to this audiobook, even though I found the other three in this DC YA novel series super fun. It’s really only because of the other three that I bothered to listen to this one at all. I have a hard time not finishing things, and since the others were so good, I decided Superman deserved another shot at my heart.
He still failed. He’s just too perfect. A weakness for kryptonite doesn’t count as a flaw, dude. I need him to make some real mistakes. To throw a temper tantrum. Do something – anything – that’s actually interesting.
The plot of this novel by Matt de la Peña revolves around corporate conspiracy and xenophobia, specifically as they relate to the targeting of immigrants, documented and otherwise.
Smallville has a fairly large Mexican population (and, for the most part, de la Peña does use the term “Mexican” rather than “Latino” or “Latinx”). This makes sense if you’re updating Smallville to the 21st century. Latinos have been moving into rural areas just as much as (if not more than) cities, because so many of them work as migrant farm hands.
Recently a proposed stop-and-search law has been proposed in Smallville. Clark and his friends (including Lana, the star reporter of the school paper) are nervous about what the results of the vote will be because they know the proposed bill will result in police officers disproportionately targeting the Hispanic community. There’s a lot of talk about how much Clark wants to believe the people of Smallville are really good people at heart blah blah blah blah blah. Good people still do horrible things, so I’m just not interested in this narrative the media has been pumping out for the past few years.
Clark is a teenager at this point, so his powers are still developing and he’s not even sure what all he can do, much less why he can do it. He doesn’t even go to the gym anymore because it has mostly turned into a situation where he has to pretend to be struggling with super heavy weights, when the fact is he could easily take on much more. So he quit the football team because he’s tired of running beneath his top speed and he’s afraid of hurting someone by accident (which has already happened once on the field and it happens again off the field towards the beginning of this book). At this point, if they just run into him full speed and he doesn’t do anything, they can break a bunch of bones while he’s fine. S,o he leaves the team, but he can’t explain to his teammates the real reason he (their star player) left, so they all resent him as a traitor.
On the bright side, he still has Lana and she’s cool, although she doesn’t know about his powers.
Around the time the story starts, a super wealthy guy who owns a large, successful corporation is buying up a bunch of small, family farms in the area. His oldest son, Corey, is working with him, and at the time the story starts, he has just brought his younger son, Brian, back home from private school and enrolled him in Smallville High. Brian is about Clark’s age and they start hanging out and sometimes Corey and his friend/business partner, Lex Luthor, tag along.
Meanwhile, Clark is falling for a girl at school named Gloria. I think she’s a year ahead of him because she’s a senior, and I’m pretty sure Clark is a junior at this point. Gloria is all upset because young Latino men have been going missing and she’s worried about her brother. Clark hadn’t heard anything about people disappearing, and when he tells Lana, she dismisses it because she’s confident that if people were disappearing in Smallville, she would know about it. It is Smallville, after all, how many people can go missing without anyone noticing?
But of course the whole point is that people from a small, disenfranchised portion of the population are going missing, which is much less likely to cause a fuss than if well-off white people were to go missing.
So Clark, Lana, Brian, and Lex do some snooping and some breaking and entering and find out that the company owned by the doctor Corey has partnered up with has been taking the young Latino men, pumping them full of some drug that makes them super strong, and training them to be soldiers.
Clark being Clark is ready to barge in and free all those men right now, but Lana manages to talk him down by pointing out that all that would accomplish would be to get himself killed and she reminds him of the power of the press. They team up with Gloria later and come up with a plan to expose Corey, his father, their company, their business partners and their partner companies at a big fair in the town square where Corey and Brian’s father is expected to make a big announcement. Turns out it’s to create a disaster so they can show off the abilities of their new super soldiers, but Clark and his friends are the only ones who know that.
Lana goes missing before they can put their plan into action and Clark has to go rescue her. He finds her strapped to a chair next to a bomb big enough to blow up the entire town. By this time he’s figured out he can fly, so he grabs the bomb, flies it into the air as far above the town as he can get it before it explodes. He is literally blown out of the sky when it goes off, but still manages to escape without a scratch.
Although Brian had been working with his dad, and had even been taking the drug to make himself stronger, Clark manages to talk some sense into him. Brian admits his dad kept an antidote to the drug, in case anything went wrong, so they’re able to administer the drug to everyone who’s been affected by it.
Throughout the novel, not only is Clark discovering his powers, but he finds out his parents aren’t really his parents. They finally show him the space ship in which he arrived and the screen in the cockpit, which is miraculously still working, comes to life at Clark’s touch and shows a video of his father explaining what’s happening to Krypton and why they’re sending their baby boy alone in a space ship – although, if they had enough time to build the space ship for him, how did they not think to make it big enough to hold all three of them?
This was the part that really frustrated me, because even though Clark is supposed to be a teenager, he exhibits 0 teen angst. Even after finding out his parents have been lying to him all his life, he’s still not mad! Not even a little! Come on! At other points in the book, he talks about how much he doesn’t want to “disappoint” his parents. What teenager thinks like that?
I also think that, since he’s a teenager and not yet in control of his powers, it would make the most sense if his powers popped up at times of intense emotions, but Clark never seems to have any of those, which is why he has always been my least favorite super hero.
I do appreciate that this book points out the fact that Superman is a refugee, so it made sense for this book to deal with that whole issue that has recently resurfaced in our country. I also like that, as much as Clark wants to believe the best of his neighbors, he can’t help but wonder how they would treat him if they knew the truth about his origins, and that motivates him even more to work to protect the rest of the immigrants of his community.
What did you read/listen to this week? Anything else that failed to impress?