THEN: Hero appears on a lot of lists (generally just next to David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy) as a ground-breaking young adult novel for a simple reason: an openly gay character. That’s most likely why I read it. When I came up with my list of re-reads I assumed Hero was one of my teenage reads, but on closer inspection of my memory, I realised I read it much later than that, during my first year of university, when I was meticulously filling my amazon wish list with things like the After Elton Top 100 Gay Novels.
And I loved it. It became one of my top ten favourite novels (according to the list I have on my computer.) It was funny, it was engaging, and it had a gay character who was neither stereotype nor neutered. I gave it five stars on my goodreads. That much I can tell you, but if you’d asked me a week ago what else happened in the book I’d have been oddly hard-pressed to tell you a single detail. (This isn’t an isolated occurrence – the same thing happened to me with Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, in that I adored it upon reading and promptly forgot everything about it.)
NOW: Turns out I still love it. Traditionally this book should probably be considered important for the rare opportunity to identify with a gay male lead, but I’ve read so much gay fiction since then that that particular novelty has faded. Instead, I found a whole new bunch of people to sympathise with: his father who keeps his back straight in the face of public scorn, loving someone without knowing how to express it; the geek who wants to be part of the superhero team; the girl who uses a front of anger to hide vulnerability; the woman embracing her age and her mistakes. And sure, all those sound pretty cliched when I boil them down to a few sentences, but Moore’s talent is in making the characters really feel alive. And as for the reviews I’ve read since that claim the writing is a bit over the top… those reviewers have clearly never been a teenage gay.
This was the first re-read that surpassed its original read (I think… I mean, I can’t actually remember that first read, but…). From a writers point of view there’s some pretty impressive things being handled (including a protracted final battle that doesn’t feel anticlimactic which is really hard to do). But more memorable (I think… I mean, ask me in five years, but…) were the characters, their stories and their vulnerabilities. The scenes that I loved anew this time around (I think, I mean… you get the picture…) were Thom’s desperate quest to hide the porn on his computer, his awkward first kiss in the church parking-lot and the scenes with the invisible mother that carried a more subtle edge of magic realism; it’s these moments that make Hero brilliant. (Let’s hope I remember them all…)