A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this superhero-themed book has comic book-style violence: Superheroes knock each other around, a woman is thrown off a roof, high-tech weapons are used to stun, short-circuit nervous systems, and otherwise cause mayhem, etc. There is some borderline swearing (like "pissed" or "holy crud"), and the book starts out with Bright Boy's embarrassment over becoming aroused while saving a young woman -- something that's pretty obvious given his yellow tights. Later, he falls for his nemesis, and there is some kissing. As in most superhero stories, good triumphs over evil just before the bad guy almost wins. But this book offers a deeper message about how hard it can be to tell the good guys from the bad. And on another level, this is a story of a boy who gains self-confidence, and his own identity, with the help of a good friendship.
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What's the story?
After Scott Hutchinson (aka Bright Boy) was adopted by benefactor Trent Clancy (a.k.a Phantom Justice), he was trained to become Phantom's super-fast, super-strong sidekick. But when an embarrassing incident involving his yellow tights is caught by TV cameras, Bright Boy begins to rethink not only his costume but also his entire life. Perhaps it's time for him to stop simply being a supportive diversion during Phantom's heroic capers. But life quickly grows complicated as Bright Boy tries to stand on his own: Is Phantom truly on the side of good? Can he make his own decisions and still fulfill his obligations to the people who have raised him? And how can nearly invisible Scott get noticed when he is not wearing his Bright Boy costume and fighting for justice? A clever twist involving his nemesis, Monkeywrench -- the sidekick to the book's main villain -- and Jake, a bully at school, brings all the action to a head in a story that involves romance, an attack on corporate greed, the triumph of good over evil, and some old-fashioned coming-of-age themes.
Is it any good?
The writing is fast, funny, and irreverent in a way that tweens will love. There are many twists and turns to keep them engaged: Readers will think they know who to root for, but then the author throws them a curve, taking his story to a whole new level involving corporate greed, high technology -- and a moral dilemma. Teens can enjoy this as a comic book without the drawings, or they can immerse themselves in the deeper issues about identity, the media's influence, and how tricky it can be to tell the good guys from the bad guys.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about superhero stories. What makes them so popular with boys in particular? How does this book's take on good and evil differ from other superhero stories you know? Why do you think the author chose to tell his story this way?
This book has a plotline about corporations using the superheroes, and the media, to influence kids feelings (and consumer choices). What are some ways that companies try to reach you in real life (think about everything from billboards on the freeway to advergames)? Should they be able to market directly to kids? Families may want to check out Common Sense Media's articles on consumerism.
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