Dreadnought (Nemisis #1) by April Daniels – 4/ 5 stars
April Daniels’s debut novel transports the reader into the life of a transgender teenager with incredible depth and humanity. If you have ever wondered what it is like to be a transgender teen, you need to read this book.
Danny (aka Daniel/ Danielle) is a transgender teen hiding her identity when a superhero dies right in front of her. As he is dying, he, Dreadnought, hands over his powers to Danny. When she receives the powers, she is transformed from an anatomical male to a female. Suffice it to say that this transformation causes all sorts of issues and the rest of the book is spent trying to address these issues.
The heart of this book is how Danny deals with her body transformation as well has how others react to her. There are some reactions that are hard to stomach, but very true to life. Here is where I really gained the insight into what it is to live in a transgender body and interact with the world. It is a constant challenge and struggle. But there are other struggles as well, like sexism and adjusting to powers. Watching Danny deal with these challenges are what made this book so hard for me to put down.
Which leads to an important point – I normally dislike the superhero genre. I was not excited by the superhero battles nor am I a fan girl, though Danny is. I deeply enjoyed this book because it was about so much more than superheroes. It is about the struggles of finding oneself and overcoming challenging circumstances. The superhero idea is simply a vehicle to share that experience and I loved every minute of it.
Well, maybe not every minute because there are some challenging topics in this book. Trigger warnings are necessary for verbal and emotional abuse (by others and towards herself), hate speech, and violence. For a book about a transgender person, there is little mention of body dysmorphia, which is likely because Danny is only in the male body for the first several pages, thus no trigger warning. There are other brief teenage situations which could be triggering, such as around eating disorders. But for the most part, the hardest part of this book to read is the abuse and hate speech and it is entirely because those moments are so authentic. This is an #ownvoices story and those moments are not sugar-coated, which is exactly how they need to be presented.
Overall, this was a fantastic book I recommend to superhero lovers as well as people who love to be transported into someone else’s life. But please do heed the trigger warnings as those moments can be pretty intense. I appreciated that other characters, including superheros were diverse, though race was a minor theme of the book. My biggest complaint with the book was the ending. It seemed like a typical superhero ending with several unbelievable moments. It wraps up well enough that it can stand alone without having to read the next in the series. But I will read the next book as I am curious to see how Danny comes into her own.
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