Author April Daniels begins her novel with a high school kid applying toenail polish in a dark corner of a shopping mall parking garage. “Painting my toes is the one way I can take control of my life,” says 15-year-old Danny Tozer. “The one way I can give voice to this idea inside me that gets heavier every year: I’m not supposed to be a boy.”
Daniels dedicates Dreadnought to all the girls still in hiding, and young Danny is definitely a girl in hiding. “There’s been a horrible mistake,” Tozer says. “I’m trapped on the wrong side. I’m not a boy. I won’t ever be a man. I’m a girl!”
Danny’s life is turned inside out when she inherits the “mantle” from Earth’s mightiest superhero. With Dreadnought’s blazing power at her command, she now possesses the energy of a trillion suns. That’s pretty cool. But more relevant to her personal situation, the mantle somehow gives Danny a body that matches her gender identity. “I’m free,” she cries. “I’m finally free.”
Her gender crisis isn’t easily resolved, however. Not by a long shot. What, for example, is she going to say to her parents when she gets home? “Well, Mom and Dad, this is what happened. The greatest hero in the world fell out of the sky and gave me his superpowers. Somehow this turned me into a girl. Anyhow, I’m off to buy some bras and panties. Ta-ta!”
Danny’s body swap takes place in the novel’s first chapter. And as you’d expect, the rest of the story chronicles her super learning curve. Not only must she navigate a complicated network of crimefighting vigilantes, but she must also carve out an identity as a transgender lesbian. Guess which one gives her the most grief?
To say her parents are unsupportive is a huge understatement. Her father (aka “Mount Screamer”) immediately contacts an endocrinologist to begin gender identity disorder treatment. And members of the Legion Pacifica (New Port City’s superhero squad, otherwise known as the “fraternity of extraordinarily empowered social rejects”) are even more vocal in their disdain. “You reify the holocaust of gender,” spits Graywytch when she meets Danny for the first time. “You invade my sex, and you poison my sisters by your simple presence.”
Even worse, Danny feels the scorn of the world around her. When she zips across the sky, the wind grasps at her and begs her to stop. When she dives into the ocean, the water squeezes tighter and tighter hoping to crush her like a can of soda. “The world is terrified of me,” she says. “Terrified of someone who would reject manhood. Terrified of a girl who knows who she is and what she’s capable of.”
Throughout, Dreadnought keeps its focus razor sharp. You might even say it’s as sharp as Utena Tenjou’s Sword of Dios. Even though there’s supervillainy afoot, the author never abandons Danny’s personal plight in favor of genre distractions. Admittedly, some of the characters are a bit thinly drawn, but we’re betting sequels will add depth to the supporting cast eventually. Fingers crossed.
Dreadnought gave Danny the greatest gift imaginable. She was now mightier than a battleship and faster than a jet. But more importantly, the dying superhero gave her the power to revolutionize the world. “I’m a girl,” says Danny at the end of the novel, “and I’m not ashamed of it.”
[Dreadnought / By April Daniels / First Printing: January 2017 / ISBN: 9781682300688]