John Otte’s debut novel Failstate impressed me with its unique premise, great comic-book style action, relevant themes, and likable characters. A story set in a world where superheroes are real and they’re doing battle on a reality show to become licensed heroes? It’s either going to be awesome or fall flat on its face. Thankfully, Otte’s writing made it an awesome read—especially for that especially underserved area of YA novels directed primarily towards boys.
But how would Otte follow up his freshman success? Well, Failstate is now a licensed superhero but that doesn’t mean the agency that gave him his license is happy about it. They still see him as a kid who lucked into the license, someone totally incapable of ensuring the safety of the city. Worse, Failstate’s first battles as a licensed hero appear to back up that claim. Maybe he isn’t meant to be a hero.
Things heat up when zombies begin to be spotted throughout the city. At first, Failstate’s superiors deny that can be the case, then call in a conference of superheroes—without Failstate’s knowledge—to solve the problem. Failstate is left feeling intimidated and unsure. This is his turf…but who is he to dictate orders to his idols, some of whom he discovers may be superpowered, but aren’t exactly nice people.
As Rob Laughlin, he has a whole new set of problems, most of them involving his own self-identity and his relationships with his friends. Put it all together, and you’ve got a classic hero-proves-himself story that’ll leave you cheering. True, I don’t think this storyline is quite as original as the first, but it’s still touches on great themes and provides a compelling story.
Fiction has the ability to take to extremes the concepts and principles that life cannot. Otte takes the struggles, hopes, dreams, and thoughts of every kid and stretches them to their extremes in Failstate Legends. One of the most prevalent themes is the desire to fit in and be accepted. As Rob, he must deal with tension among his family and friends—as well as a crush that isn’t too keen on superheroes. As Failstate, he must become a part of a group of superheroes that believe he’s not cut out for the job. Young readers can grasp onto these themes and apply them in their lives.
Failstate Legends had me reading late into night, trying to figure out the mystery all while rooting for and identifying with Failstate as he seeks to use his superpowers to better the world. And, in the end, isn’t that what the Christian life is all about? Individuals imbued supernaturally with special abilities meant to use them to make the world a better place? I eagerly await to read more from this wonderful world Otte has created—especially about the mysterious Etzal’el. Who’s that, you ask? Well, you’ll just have to read the book and find out.
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