Mask: The League of Secret Heroes, Book 2

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Mask: The League of Secret Heroes, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Superhero tweens hit San Francisco in exciting WWII sequel.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Much of the story hinges on the work of deciphering coded messages, and the puzzle-solving skills this involves. Besides being packed with lore about '40s-era comic books and superheroes, Mask includes lots of well-researched historical detail, particularly about the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II and  the heroic, dangerous work of many, including spies, on the Allied side. There's also plenty of San Francisco local color. An afterword offers much more detail on historical people -- spies! coebreakers! -- and events in the story.

Positive Messages

Strong messages of courage, family, friendship, righting wrongs, and helping your loved ones. Also using your powers effectively for good.

Positive Role Models

Josie, Mae, and Akiko are all strong individuals who are inspired by superheroes to do everything they can to right wrongs, fight evil, and protect their loved ones -- all while coping with their own worries and family tragedies. Mrs. Boudica (who, in Book 1, proved to be the lost superhero The Palomino) and the other superhero characters are shadows of their former selves when they're there at all, but have lost none of their determination to fight evil, and often come to the rescue when the girls are in danger. Other women are hard at work to break enemy codes and help the war effort.

Violence

Some violence in Mask is comic-bookish, while some is tragically traumatic. In the cosmic battle of superheroes and villains, the superheroes have suffered many deaths, maimings, and losses (Josie recalls a character being vaporized in the first book), and there's some hand-to-hand fighting, as well as training that involves throwing each other to the ground. World War II is on, Japan is dropping balloon bombs on San Francisco (the bombs really happened, though not in San Francisco, as explained in the afterword), abetted by villains and spies. Warships are part of the plot. Meanwhile the U.S. is committing an atrocity against its Japanase American citizens by forcing them into concentration camps due to the infamous Executive Order 9066 -- causing them to lose homes, belongings, and livelihoods. And a "good American" poisons and kills a Japanese American family's dogs. One character's father has been killed in the war, while others have family members also fighting, and the story involves real-life characters who risked their lives as spies during the war (at least one of whom was captured and killed by the Nazis, though the book does not say so explicitly). A character suffers a broken leg and heals herself with superpowers.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kate Hannigan's Mask, sequel to Cape in the League of Secret Heroes series, follows the lead of Book 1 in hitting a lot of sweet spots: history, spies, superheroes, and lots of complex, engaging characters -- all girls and women, except for one male superhero dog. Set during World War II, the story unfolds in alternating graphic-novel and narrative format, and offers strong messages of inclusion and diversity (much of the story involves the wrongs suffered by Akiko's Japanese American family during World War II, and the girls receive training from a British Muslim woman who was in real life a heroic spy for the Allies). It being wartime, there's violence both comic-bookish (e.g. an army of bad-acting clowns spying for the Japanese and launching balloon bombs) and all too real (one character's father has died in combat, and other characters' family members are also in peril; a Japanese American family's dogs are killed by a "patriotic" neighbor).

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What's the story?

Following their defeat of The Hisser in Book 1, MASK finds Josie, Akiko, and Mae still discovering their superpowers and traveling to San Francisco, which was Akiko's home until Japanese Americans were forcibly uprooted and sent to concentration camps. Once there, they reconnect with Mrs.Boudica and a group of hardworking, skilled women trying to foil spies and break enemy codes. Not a minute too soon, either, as the city is under attack by a new supervillain, the Side-Splitter and his army of evil clowns, who bombard the city with explosives and otherwise wreak havoc.  Meanwhile, a woman who runs a doll shop seems to be a spy -- but why is Akiko's mom, who's supposed to be locked up in the camp in Manzanar, seen all around town with her? And behaving strangely, too? With the superheroes of old either gone or mere shadows of their former selves, it's up to the Infinity Trinity to fix things.

Is it any good?

The challenges and dangers are huge, the superheroes of old are helpless or lost, and it all comes down to the Infinity Trinity in this exciting WWII sequel. Like Book 1, Mask is part graphic novel, part text narrative, packed with historical detail about World War II and daily life during the era. As Akiko, Mae, and Josie teleport around the country, ride cable cars and climb hills in San Francisco, dodge evil clowns and try to foil spies, there's lots of excitement, drama, and girl power -- with strong, supportive adults to inspire their heroics and offer life lessons. Code-breaking and puzzle-solving are important skills and play a key role.

An afterword offers source material about people and events in the story, and makes much of the heroic real-life British spy Noor Khan and her remark that the life expectancy of her profession is about four months. But it neglects to mention that she was killed at Dachau by Nazis.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how superheroes are portrayed in Mask. Why, when things are bad, do people look to them for help? Do you think it's good to think about how superheroes might fix things --or do you think that's just silly and helps nothing? 

  • Do you know anyone whose family was displaced and imprisoned durig World War II as a result of Executive Order 9066? How would it feel to lose everything because of how you looked and where your ancestors came from?

  • Have you ever made up secret codes to send messages to your friends? Would you like to try?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love World War II tales and girl power

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