Why Me? Reluctant Superheroes in YA Lit

Now that I am all caught up on my television shows, I am starting to look ahead to what will grace my DVR in the fall.  Season premiere time is always exciting, especially when there is some type of literary connection.  However, the upcoming show that is leaving me full of hope and anticipation is Supergirl.


In the DC universe, Supergirl is from the same planet as Superman. In fact, she is his older cousin.  However, something happened where she was suspended in time and came to planet Earth well after Clark Kent already established the house of El.  You know, the big S.

This show seems to be following the proper age gap of Kara Zor-El being younger and more inexperienced with her powers than her super famous cousin Kal-El.  She struggles with using them, controlling them, and what path she is supposed to take with them.

Which led me to thinking about books where our main characters are struggling to deal with their powers, or the implications of their powers, in some way.  I would love to have superpowers!  However, I really don’t know how I would react if power, greatness, and expectations were thrust upon me along with the ability to fly, super strength, and be able to shoot laser beams from my eyes.

So, to celebrate the authentic feelings that Kara is going through, here are a few books where in which our main characters are not always sure what to do with themselves or their powers.

gracelingGraceling by Kristin Cashore (2009 Best Books for Young Adults)

Katsa lives in a world where some have gracelings-.  An abilitiesy that allow them to do something exceedingly well.  Some people can work well with animals, some are expert swordsmen or archers.  Katsa’s graceling is the ability to kill.  No matter the size of her opponent, their ability, or strength, she always come out on top.  However, this comes with some complications, especially when her uncle, a ruthless king, decides to use her gifts for his gain. 

Defy by Sara Larson

Alexa, or Alex as she is known by everyone else, is an amazing soldier.  Good enough to be on the Prince’s guard, forced into disguise as a boy of course.  However, when the Prince is kidnapped by magicians, Alexa finds out that her skills as a soldier may not be attributed solely to hard work.

shadow_and_bone_coverShadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults)

Alina is average.  Just like everyone else.  At least that is what she thought, until her best friend is attacked in the Fold, a place of evil and pure darkness.  Alina is able to save him with a remarkable hidden power that she has no idea how to control.  She is now a Grisha, a group of people with magical abilities and Alina has one of the most rarest and strongest powers of them all:  the power of light.  The entire kingdom is placing hope and faith in Alina to free them from the darkness that has overtaken their lands.  However, she still has no idea how to wield this power within.

The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks

Why can’t she be a better superhero like her older brother?  This is what Superhero Girl hears every time her mother calls.  No origin story, no arch-nemesis.  Just powers and the inability to do anything spectacular with these powers.

And if you are looking to read about a version of Supergirl who has no inhibitions and refuses to stay down after getting a few punches thrown her way, try Supergirl Vol. 1: Last Daughter of Krypton (The New 52).

— Mariela Siegert, currently reading Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. Nielsen

2 thoughts on “Why Me? Reluctant Superheroes in YA Lit”

  1. I like the Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix. Sabriel reluctantly has to take on her father’s role as Abhorsen, sending the dead back down to the underworld, while she hopes that her father is not dead. In the sequel Lirael is a girl who doesn’t fit in but gradually discovers her own powers and an unexpected destiny.

Comments are closed.