Books for Boys: Legacy, by Thomas E. Sniegoski

Title: Legacy
Author: Thomas E. Sniegoski
Genre: Middle-grade fiction (Books for Boys)
Age Category: 12 years +

Books for Boys: Legacy

Eighteen-year old Lucas Moore hasn’t had the best life. He and his mother live in a beat-up trailer in the aptly-named nowhere town of Perdition, Arizona, where she waits tables in a diner and he works as an auto mechanic—when he’s not out drinking or getting into a fight. He never finished high school. He’s never known his father.

Then one day, a strange man shows up in Perdition. And he’s fixated on Lucas. It turns out that this stranger is none other than the well-known billionaire Clayton Hartwell, who moonlights as the vigilante superhero known as the Raptor.

And Lucas is his son.

You see, Hartwell is dying, and now he wants Lucas to take up his mantle and protect the crime-ridden Seraph City once he’s gone. But Lucas isn’t so sure he wants that life. That is, until his trailer park is razed to the ground, and his mother is killed.  Heartbroken and outraged, Lucas agrees to accompany Hartwell to Seraph City and start his superhero training. But the more time he spends with Hartwell, the more he starts to wonder about the choices he’s making. A mysterious call from a well-informed stranger sends Lucas digging into Hartwell’s past, and what he finds forces him to ask some very difficult questions about good, evil, and the real role of a superhero.

Subjective Appeal: A Graphic Novel, Minus the Graphics

This is a classic superhero story. I’m not saying it will become a classic; it’s simply not that memorable. But it has all the classic superhero ingredients. A young slacker (Green Hornet); the onset of inexplicable physical changes (Spider-man); a long-lost father who reveals the hero’s true identity (Superman); a billionaire with a secret (Batman); a jaded superhero who’s willing to use questionable means to achieve his supposedly ‘good’ ends (Watchmen); a superhero with severe physical limitations (X-Men); flying suits (Iron Man); botched science experiments (The Hulk); super powers (pretty much all of them); crime syndicates (ditto) . . . this reads like an amalgam of tried-and-true superhero stereotypes. There’s even a hint of romance involving a sweet, supportive, smart (and conveniently attractive) girl. Not so much romance that it detracts from all the generic superhero action, of course, but just enough to keep things interesting for the teenage boy who is increasingly aware of—and intrigued by—the opposite sex.

Fortunately, these clichés are popular because they work. While this is by no means a terribly original work of fiction, it likely ticks enough of the superhero boxes to hold the attention of fans of the genre—particularly those who might previously have avoided traditional novels in favor of the more accessible and visually stimulating graphic novel.

Developmental Value: Coping with a Flawed Father and Unmet Parental Expectations

While the book itself is rather lackluster, the story, as mentioned above, includes a lot of the elements that make graphic novels attractive to young readers—particularly young male readers. For the reluctant reader, therefore, this might be an excellent compromise: all the fun of a graphic novel in regular old novel form. And at just over 200 pages, it’s shorter than many graphic novels (though of course they’re mostly pictures).

As for the subject matter, Lucas learns rapidly that just because someone is a parent or is in a position of authority—or even because someone is a superhero—doesn’t mean he’s right. [SPOILER ALERT] Hartwell/the Raptor has become so ends-oriented in his crime-fighting that he’s determined to do whatever it takes to stop or reduce crime—up to and including the deliberate manufacture of a whole slew of offspring/potential replacements that he’s all-too-eager to dispatch when they prove to be disappointments. And when he finds he can’t succeed in creating Lucas in his own image, he’s perfectly willing to destroy the civilian population to spare them the misery of living in a world where crime runs rampant.

In the face of this attitude of evil-means-for-‘good’-ends, Lucas has some very difficult choices to make. Teens will likely identify with the pitting of heroic self against mistaken (and possibly crazy) parents. While most teens’ parental conflicts won’t involve confronting an off-the-rails superhero, Lucas’ approach to the situation, and his ultimate decision to pit himself against his father, could be the catalyst for excellent discussions on the fallibility of parents and the correct response to inevitable parental mistakes whether real or perceived.

Then, too, there’s Hartwell’s expectation that Lucas will follow in his footsteps—a situation all-too-familiar to many teens. He wants Lucas to be like him, to do what he does, to care about the things he cares about. As Lucas learns more about his father, he realizes the many differences between them and has to come to grips with his own identity as distinct from his father. Again, Lucas’ circumstances are a bit extreme, but the underlying issues border on universal. Sometimes fathers (or mothers) do seek to replicate themselves in their children instead of helping their children learn and grow and decide for themselves who they will be. Lucas’ struggle could serve as a springboard for conversations about those expectations—which expectations are reasonable and should be honored, and which expectations are perhaps a bit unrealistic or unfair and need to be adjusted.

As you can see, there’s a lot of good stuff here—fodder for important and helpful conversations wrapped in a package that is will likely be attractive to reluctant readers. It’s unfortunate that the product itself is so mediocre, but then not every kid’s book needs to be an instant classic. There’s a lot to be said for a book that simply appeals to kids, even it’s not a literary masterpiece.

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Categories: 13 to 19 years +9 to 12 yearsBook Reviews
Tags: LegacyMiddle-grade FictionReluctant ReadersSuperherosThomase E. Sniegoski
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