Even though Charlie Conti grew up surrounded by supervillains and mad scientists, she had no interest in taking over the world or challenging the Celestial Knights to a battle royale. All the 14-year-old girl wanted was to have a normal life. “I wanted a chance to grow old without having to worry about dodging laser beams and undead Vikings,” she said.
But Charlie’s father was the Undertaker, a professional (and unionized) henchman. Because of his dubious career choice, Charlie’s life would always be filled with messy complications.
Recently relocated from Melbourne to a small coastal town, Charlie and her eight-year-old brother Luca were determined to make a fresh start. They wanted to meet some friends, go to school, and avoid the ongoing drama created by their father.
Unfortunately, things don’t exactly work out that way. After exactly one day in Henty Bay, Charlie’s father accidentally zaps himself with a ray gun and shrinks to the size of a LEGO mini-figure. Uh-oh.
The kids don’t freak out too much. This wasn’t the first time one of their dad’s crazy inventions backfired. “He wasn’t an inventor,” said Charlie. “He was more of a tinkerer. And nine times out of ten he was simply a destroyer.”
Charlie, on the other hand, was sort of a mad genius (“Like in the comics,” she said). She promised her dad that she would reverse engineer his ray gun and mitigate the damage. In the meantime, she kept him in a glass jar for safekeeping.
You’d think that with her accident-prone father out of the way, Charlie’s life would settle down a little bit. But that didn’t happen. She quickly got swept up in a crazy plan to resurrect an ancient goddess named Chalchiuhtlicue. Despite her family’s proclivity for villainy, Charlene Bianca Louise Conti knew she had to keep Henty Bay safe from the Aztec she-mummy and her preternatural pandilla. In other words, she had to become a superhero.
Ben Langdon has been responsible for some enjoyable books in the past. As an author (The Miranda Contract) and editor (This Mutant Life and This Mutant Life: Bad Company), he’s proven to have a keen eye for superhero fiction. Now, collaborating with his daughter Eliza, he’s helped create a character with a dash of Studio Ghibli spunk. Like Kiki in Kiki’s Delivery Service, Charlie moved to a brand new city to discover her place in the universe. And like Chihiro from Spirited Away, she traversed a strange and confusing landscape to rescue her parents.
Small Sacrifices is a novel about big sacrifices. With an absentee mother and a father on the wrong side of the law, Charlie was the glue that held her family together. That’s a heavy burden for a young girl to bear. Her journey from nanny and surrogate mother to teenage superhero was Miyazaki-like in every way.
[Small Sacrifices: The Adventures of Charlie Conti, Book One / By Ben Langdon and Eliza Langdon / First Printing: May 2016 / ISBN: 9780987530882]