Nick Bell may not be one of the Extraordinaries, people with super human powers, but he definitely is a fan. In fact, Nick is pretty much all in, writing Extraordinaries fan fiction about his favorite super hero, Shadow Star (starring a loosely veiled version of himself as the love interest). For Nick, Shadow Star is everything he could want — strong, brave, powerful, and willing to do whatever it takes it stop his arch nemesis, Pyro Storm. Nick can’t help his massive crush on Shadow Star, especially when he has a chance meeting with the dreamy super hero himself.
While Shadow Star may be his not-so-secret obsession, Nick is trying hard to focus this year on school and being responsible. He knows he let his dad down last year when he let things get out of control while he was dating Owen. But Nick has promised his dad he will take his ADHD medication, he will be at school on time, and he will try to stay out of trouble. After Nick lost his mom tragically, his dad is all he has, and Nick doesn’t want to let him down. But that is easier said than done, especially when his brain moves a million miles an hour and sometimes Nick can’t quite think things through before he finds himself acting on them.
With his dad being a cop, Nick knows that danger is everywhere. And he sees how hard Shadow Star is working to protect Nova City from bad guys like Pyro Storm. So Nick decides to figure out a way to make himself an Extraordinary so he can help. His best friend, Seth, and his friends Gibby and Jazz, are somewhat reluctant to join in what they see is a risky endeavor, but Nick knows if he can just figure out how to gain his own powers, he can protect those he cares about. Unfortunately, figuring out how to give himself abilities is easier said than done. But when things heat up, both in the battle between the Extraordinaries, and with danger on the home front, Nick is going to need the support of his friends more than ever if he will have a chance to protect those he loves.
The Extraordinaries kicks off a new young adult series by T.J. Klune and I totally loved it. I am sucker for superhero stories and this one has all the right humor and playfulness, but also with a really nice depth that grounds the story and builds something really engaging. What I appreciated most here is that the story grows and evolves throughout the book. I thought I knew exactly what was happening from the start (and to a degree, I was right), but things keep developing and building in ways that kept me eagerly turning pages to watch it all evolve. Klune does plenty of foreshadowing to lead us all along, and I loved the way the story ends up being much more than it originally seems. For superhero fans, there is a lot to like here. We get nods to various superhero tropes, with arch nemeses and dramatic origin stories and even superhero lairs (albeit ones that are somewhat disappointing to Nick). There is also a nice playfulness that fits well with this style story. Those familiar with Klune’s more comedic adult works will recognize the style and I think it translates nicely here. At times, Nick is a bit over-the-top in his cluelessness, but I think it works overall given the type of story this is.
I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between Nick and his dad. The two of them have had a rough go of it as they struggled in the aftermath of his mom’s death. Things are a little tense as Nick let things get somewhat out of hand over the last year and he is trying to get his act back together. And it is not always easy with his ADHD. But even as his dad may lay down more rules than Nick wants, the love between them is always clear. They may joke and banter, but they without a doubt care about each other, and his father’s support is what really grounds Nick as things get somewhat out of control once again. I also loved the interaction with his best friends, Seth, Jazz, and Gibby. They may roll their eyes at Nick’s obliviousness at times, and think some of his ideas are crazy. But they also have his back and I there is great camaraderie among them all. I love Gibby as the self described “baby butch” and Jazz, her cheerleader girlfriend who has a lot more going on than might appear at first glance. And of course, there is Seth, Nick’s best friend and a total cinnamon roll who I just wanted to hug and squeeze for his adorableness (as does Nick, although it takes him quite a while to figure out exactly why that is). Nick and Seth’s romance is just starting to develop here, but they are all kinds of sweet together.
As I said, a lot unfolds here over the course of the book and Klune takes the story in some fun directions. There is humor and suspense and some real emotions as Nick struggles with realizing he is good enough just as he is and doesn’t need any super powers to be an extraordinary person all on his own. Things tie up nicely here, but also the door is left open for a lot of threads to continue with the series. And be sure not to stop reading until the very end, because in true superhero story fashion, there is a late scene that takes things into all kinds of great directions.
Note: Following the release of this review, there was discussion here in the comments, as well as on multiple other platforms, about issues related to police brutality, abuses of power, and white privilege in this story. I also included more detail on my personal thoughts (as well as an apology for missing flags I should have caught) as part of my review of the second book, Flash Fire. However, that review does have spoilers for this book, so I wanted to include those thoughts here as well so that interested readers could see all the notes together, without having to find them in the other review. The following is taken from my review of Flash Fire:
Klune received some criticism after the release of The Extraordinaries about the portrayal of the police. Some key issues include the fact that Aaron beat up a suspect during an interrogation (prior to the start of the book), and Nick defends him. Nick also makes a poor joke about police brutality from a position of privilege, knowing he is not in any danger. Others who are much more knowledgeable about this issue than me have discussed this at length, and Klune himself responded to the criticism after the release of the first book. Here in this story, it seems clear that Klune has attempted to address many of these concerns by putting focus on these issues. We see Nick come to a new understanding of his father’s behavior and realize he can’t unconditionally defend his dad any more. We also see Aaron discussing the issue of police brutality and abuses with Gibby’s parents, who are Black. The issues of the police behavior, and Nick’s father in particular, come up often and in a variety of ways throughout the book.
On a personal level, I want to apologize for the fact that I missed many of these red flags upon reading The Extraordinaries. The issues were brought to my attention after I published my review and I addressed them in the comments there. However, I wanted to respond again, particularly now as some time has passed since I read the first story. I was lucky and privileged enough to grow up seeing the police primarily as a symbol of safety and protection, and I missed problems in the first story that I should have caught. I appreciate that readers have raised this issue, both with me and on a larger level, as this is a topic that is critically important and deserves conversation. I apologize for missing things and I will work to do better.