Thursday, May 3, 2018

Book Review/Guest Post: Captain Superlative! by J.S. Puller

Captain Superlative!, by J.S. Puller
2018, 256p, Middle-Grade Fiction
My Rating=5 Stars
Source: I received a complimentary copy from the publisher, which did not affect my review in any way

"Have no fear, citizens! Captain Superlative is here to make all troubles disappear!"

Red mask, blue wig, silver swimsuit, rubber gloves, torn tights, high top sneakers and . . . a cape? Who would run through the halls of Deerwood Park Middle School dressed like this? And why?

Janey-quick to stay in the shadows-can't resist the urge to uncover the truth behind the mask. The answer pulls invisible Janey into the spotlight and leads her to an unexpected friendship with a superhero like no other. Fearless even in the face of school bully extraordinaire, Dagmar Hagen, no good deed is too small for the incomparable Captain Superlative and her new sidekick, Janey.

But superheroes hold secrets and Captain Superlative is no exception. When Janey unearths what's truly at stake, she's forced to face her own dark secrets and discover what it truly means to be a hero . . . and a friend. 

Janey is curious about the mysterious Captain Superlative who sticks up for kids getting bullied and performs small acts of kindness. She becomes Captain Superlative's sidekick and things are going well until she discovers the secret the Captain is keeping. She needs to find a way to come to terms with what is happening and how she will move forward.

I enjoyed reading about Janey and Captain Superlative. Janey starts out insecure and afraid, and it was satisfying to see her transform. Dagmar is a bully who intimidates all the girls, and especially picks on Janey's friend, Paige. Janey discovers a secret about Dagmar which helps her to understand her better. I read this with my daughter, who is starting to outgrow middle-age reads (even though I probably never will, haha), and part of our discussion was about how our perception of people can change when we learn more about their life and what they are dealing with. They most likely won't change, but we can change our feelings toward them and how we treat them.

This is a fun coming-of-age story which we both enjoyed! It's an emotional read (which somewhat surprised me) and we laughed and cried. We had some great discussions about what was happening. I was moved with how Janey came to terms with the new reality of her life. If you enjoy middle-grade books, this is one you'll want to read!

10 “Behind the Scenes” Facts about 

1. CAPTAIN SUPERLATIVE started its life as a play. Over a weekend in 2013, I wrote a play called CAPTAIN SUPERLATIVE, then spent the next few years revising it, with help from Chicago Dramatists, The Growing Stage Theatre, Purple Crayon Players, and Clockwise Theatre, which eventually produced an all-teenager production. I originally decided to turn it into a novel as a National Novel Writing Month challenge to myself. I never expected anything to come of it, but I’m so glad I decided to give it a try!

2. CAPTAIN SUPERLATIVE would not have been possible without a team of Super Friends. A lot of people think of writing as a solo adventure. But nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from the great theatre companies that helped me refine the dialog, I had a ton of help from a writing group at the University of Chicago (led by Esther Hershenhorn), my fabulous agent Brianne Johnson, my editor Tracey Keegan, and a great team at Disney Hyperion, including Esther Cajahuaringa, Cassie McGinty, and Laura Magno. They’re my real-life version of the Justice League or the Avengers, depending on which line of comics you prefer.

3. Janey’s father is named after my grandfather. In the original script, Janey’s father didn’t have a name. He was just listed as “Father.” His relationship with Janey is based largely on my own relationship with my mother and therefore what I imagine her relationship with her father was like, which is why I named him Robert. But don’t worry. There’s some of my own father in there too. I used to have swordfights with him, using yellow, plastic baseball bats.

4. Each of the four main female characters represents a different element. This may or may not be a surprise to some readers, but I definitely went out of my way to align each girl with an element. Dagmar is fire, which manifests itself mostly in descriptions of her temper. Captain Superlative is water, which describes how she moves and impacts the world around her. Paige is the earth, always on the ground, but the steady, stabilizing force. And Janey is the air, drifting through her life until she unexpectedly gets swept up in an adventure.

5. Captain Superlative’s favorite superhero is Hawkgirl. This isn’t a surprise if you’ve read the book, but it’s true for two reasons. The first is because of the above-mentioned fact that each girl represents a different element. Hawkgirl is a character who flies through the air. And Janey is represented by air. This is Captain Superlative’s way of showing that Janey is her favorite superhero. The second reason is because Hawkgirl is my favorite superhero. Or, at least, the one from the Justice League Unlimited cartoon is! (But like Janey’s father, I’m rather fond of Batman too.)

6. All of Janey’s teachers are named after my old teachers. Jan Hinton was my teaching fellowship mentor in grad school. Rives Collins was my thesis advisor in college. Mia McCullough was my playwriting mentor. Robert Wallace was one of my favorite classical studies professors. The list goes on and on.

7. Betty Grossman was a real person. She was, in fact, my fifth grade teacher. And while she wasn’t three hundred pounds, she did have an incredible laugh. It was thanks to her that I developed a love of literature and reading. She was also one of my shields, during a time of heavy bullying and loss in my life. As a graduate student, I wrote her a letter to thank her for being so good to me. I never expected her to receive it, but she did. She invited me and my best friend to lunch and told me that that Thanksgiving, what she was most thankful for was my letter. It was, unfortunately, the last time I ever saw her. I miss her terribly, but she’ll always be with me.

8. Deerwood Park is based on the three cities that fed into my junior high. I attended Northwood Junior High, which had students from Deerfield, Highwood, and Highland Park. The name “Deerwood Park” is a combination of the three and the Deerwood Park Middle School building is largely my own junior high, in my head.

9. I had Janey draw a moose in Chapter 14 as a tribute to a friend. My best friend and I like to go on adventures together, and we sometimes play a game called “spot the moose,” where we compete to see who can find a moose or a picture of a moose somewhere. When we’re apart, we sometimes text pictures of moose we find to one another. This may or may not have stemmed from a period in our lives when we were big fans of Jared Padalecki on Supernatural. I threw a moose into Chapter 14 for her to spot. And I think she found it!

10. I don’t know what happens to Janey after the story ends. A lot of times, I come up with a storyline in my head about what happens to my characters after the story ends. But I didn’t do that for Janey. I think a part of that is I want to encourage readers to come up with their own ideas. I’m that rare author who longs to see fanfiction of her own work. You tell me what happens after the final page!

J. S. Puller is a playwright and debut author from the Windy City, Chicago. She has a master's degree in elementary education and a bachelor's degree in theatre from Northwestern University. She is an award-winning member of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education and is actively involved in researching the social-emotional benefits of arts education with the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research. When not writing, she can usually be found in the theatre. Her play, WOMEN WHO WEAVE, was published by Playscripts, Inc. 


sherry fundin said...

Funny about the mouse.
sherry @ fundinmental

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