Published: March 4, 2014
Maisie Danger Brown applies to astronaut camp never expecting to get in, but soon she’s on her way to the experience of a lifetime. Not because of the advanced classes, the astronaut training, or even the boys, but because one chance exposure to alien technology means that saving the world is now up to her. If she can figure out what the world needs saving from, that is.
I looked forward to Shannon Hale’s Dangerous for a long time, not only because it features a protagonist who is half-Paraguayan and we need more diversity in young adult literature, but also because I wanted to see how Hale would write a superhero novel. Superhero comics and movies make sense, yes, but a superhero novel is something rare indeed. Interestingly enough, however, when I finally read Dangerous, I wondered whether this qualifies as a superhero novel at all.
Plot details on Dangerous were kept tight and, if you prefer to keep yourself in a pristine state free of spoilers, you may want to skip this review. While I will try to keep the information I reveal vague, I cannot discuss my reactions to this story without at least outlining certain plot points. This first plot point, is in fact, the plot. (Please do stop reading now if you wish to be spoiler-free!) From the lead-up to Dangerous, I had some idea that we would be getting a typical story where the hero is exposed to some sort of scientific anomaly, gains powers, and becomes a crime-fighting vigilante. What we got was similar–Maisie is exposed to a foreign substance and gains unusual skills as a result–but diverged, I thought, into science-fiction territory. (Here I reveal a detail of the plot that the plot thought was a secret, but that I think just about every reader understood from the beginning.) After all, the substance is alien technology and is designed to help the bearer fight off an alien invasion. (Really, was anyone surprised that the book ended with an alien invasion? One of those tokens is supposed to give extra intelligence, but no one in the book figured that one out?)
All this raised a question for me: what exactly constitutes a superhero story? Shannon Hale clearly thought Dangerous qualifies. After all, it features a girl with special powers who saves the day. That is what superheroes do. But once aliens got involved, I thought the story was science fiction. Does that mean superheroes cannot feature in science fiction? To say so seems not only overly broad, but also kind of silly. After all, do not a lot of superheroes receive their powers from science gone wrong? Are they not, then, sort of in a science fiction story? One cannot really gain spider powers from a spider bite–that’s fiction! Or maybe this means aliens cannot be in superhero stories? But what about The Avengers? Maybe, I thought, it was the vigilante business. Maisie does not (to her best friend’s disappointment) start fighting crime on the streets. She sees her mission as solely facing the menace that she knows is coming, thanks to the alien technology now lodged in her breast. And that mindset is what made me think science fiction. Because it’s sort of like Ender’s Game, isn’t it? A group of people using special skills to face an alien threat and then going home. Case closed. But maybe I am wrong or maybe the borders we have delineated around genres are too strict. Whatever the case, I started becoming more concerned with this issue than with the story.
There was one other thing that bothered me about Dangerous, though–the romance. Maisie falls hard for a boy anyone can see at a glace must be trouble. He’s clearly a player, one of those stereotypical rich kids who likes to use women to boost his own ego. One wonders when he goes after Maisie what it is he wants from her. Throughout the story, however, Hale provides various clues as to his real motives and it is hard to decide whether he is “good” or “bad” or just playing the field for himself. He often excuses his behavior by essentially admitting he has “daddy issues” and Maisie accepts that. But even if one is inclined to forgive his worst moments, that does not, in my opinion, make him a suitable romantic partner for Maisie. He may want to save the world or just himself, but underneath it all he still was–and, as far as I know, is–a player. He says he cares about Maisie but he still uses her in various ways. Fortunately, readers have one of those infamous love triangles to give them hope that Maisie will not end up with him at all. (Spoilers about the result of this love triangle and other details of the romance.) Like most love triangles, however, this one is not particularly suspense-inducing. The second guy never really had a chance and Maisie ends up with the player. The one who tried to get her to sleep with him while he was using her politically. Isn’t that a nice take-away? Guys can use women, say they are sorry, and have the women take them back.
Dangerous is an exciting, fast-paced adventure that kept me flipping pages until I had finished (really, I don’t remember putting it down, except maybe to eat and then just because society kind of expects that). And yet, in the end, all I remember is the cringe-worthy romance. Very disappointing.