We’ve been reading a lot of middle-grade novels lately. If you didn’t know, these books are aimed at kids who are between the ages of nine and 12. In other words, they hit a sweet spot somewhere between Ramona the Pest and Twilight.
As parents, librarians, and publishers know, this is the age when young boys become reluctant readers. At some point they tend to give up on books and gravitate to other things (like video games, Satanism, and YouPorn).
As a result, a lot of middle-grade books specifically target boys in hopes of keeping them interested in reading. Walk into any bookstore (if you can find one, alas) and take a look around. You’ll see that these books inevitably feature protagonists who are spies, or detectives, or wizards, or astronauts, or quarterbacks, or superheroes.
Superhero novels are perfect for boys in this particular reading group. They provide a nice metaphor for growing up and accepting adult-like responsibilities. They also provide context for self-identity issues that will clobber them over the head when puberty erupts. Wearing a nifty costume and fighting bug monsters is just icing on the cake.
The Vindico (the title is Latin for vengeance, btw) is a middle-grade novel about a bunch of kids who have been handpicked to become supervillain protégés. “You are being offered a gift. Powers beyond your comprehension,” says the Baron, the ringleader of the Vindico crime syndicate. And, as promised, each of the kids is transformed into a supervillain with extraordinary powers.
But if you turn a bunch of kids into criminals, you can’t really expect them to follow the rules. And that’s the case here. The students eventually rebel against their mentors and choose a path of righteousness. Supervillain school was terrible, says one of the kids. “We decided to graduate.”
Don’t think for one second, however, that the author is bowing to the memory of the Comics Code Authority. It looks like he’s got nefarious plans for the sequel. At the end of this novel, the Vindico has been defeated and locked away in prison. But the Baron isn’t worried. “Eventually, our former protégés will free us,” he says confidently. “They’ll soon find out that it’s far more fun to be a villain.”
[The Vindico / By Wesley King / First Printing: June 2012 / ISBN: 9780399256547]