A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Margaret Finnegan's We Could Be Heroes is narrated by a fourth grader named Hank, who has autism. Hank can behave in impulsive ways, such as burning a book in the school bathroom because it bothers him when the teacher reads it. He has difficulty reading people, like his teacher, Ms. Vera, whom his mother calls "a piece of work." Hank's used to being left out by other kids, which is why he's surprised that new girl Maisie begins paying attention to him. She tricks him into doing things for her, asks him to lie to his parents, teachers, and the police, which he does. When he doesn't get his way, he makes his parents "pay" by ignoring them. Maisie calls people names, such as "the old liver spot" and "the evil daughter," characterizing people in ways that might not be accurate. Animals and people in the story have epileptic seizures, which Hank doesn't know how to cope with. The book that's being read in class emphasizes the ruthlessness that Nazis had toward people who were different, causing Hank and Maisie to wonder whether they would have survived under Nazi rule.
What's the story?
In WE COULD BE HEROES, by debut author Margaret Finnegan, 10-year-old Hank from the mountainous Northwest feels so upset by his teacher's choice in books that he tries to burn the "tome" in the school bathroom, setting off the sprinklers and the alarm. He ends up getting caught and suspended from school. Because he has autism, his parents take the time to explain why the action is inappropriate. But a new girl in his class, Maisie, notices Hank's rebellious streak and enlists him for a task because she "thought he had the meatballs" to help her. Maisie lives next door to an elderly man who has three dogs, one of which is tied to a tree. Bribing Hank with a rock from her parent's rock collection, Maisie convinces him that he should adopt the dog, which has epilepsy, and bring it home to his house. Hank thinks he's made a new friend, but Maisie is asking him to do things that don't feel safe. He's torn between doing what his friend asks and doing what he thinks is right. Will he be able to take the right kinds of risks for the right kind of friendship? Or will he make choices that can harm himself and others?
Is it any good?
In this edgy story, a pair of kids with differences make unconventional choices to save a dog from a man that they assume is mistreating the dog. We Could Be Heroes attempts to give voice to a kid with autism whose new friend displays unpredictable and sometimes devious motivation. Because the reader doesn't have a lot of backstory about Maisie, it's unclear why she uses, manipulates, and lies to Hank. The unreliable quality of Maisie's intentions could be confusing to kids in this age group, who might feel a little alienated by the minimalist writing. Why is she lying to Hank? Why does she ask Hank to lie to his parents, to keep secrets, to make plans that could put himself in danger?
Though Hank's parents call her out for her behavior ("Excuse me? Did you use Hank ... ?"), no one explains to Hank why Maisie acts the way that she does. It's revealed in the end that kids were unkind to her because of a condition that she has, but her disparaging tone has an effect on Hank, testing his loyalty to his values and his family. He's offered tools for standing up for himself, like saying, "I want to play my game now." Though well-written and intriguing, having a kid with autism like Hank get blindsided by a frenemy like Maisie might ultimately prove confusing for this age group.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about friendship in We Could Be Heroes. Would Hank have known how to stand up to Maisie if his parents hadn't caught on to her manipulations? What resources do you have that help you navigate friendships? Books? Movies? People?
What does it mean to be different from other people? How can we help people with differences feel accepted and whole? Which celebrity role models with differences do you admire?
How do you know if someone's behavior is bullying or not? Where do you feel it in your body? What role models in books or shows have helped you stand up for yourself?
- Author: Margaret Finnegan
- Genre: Family Life
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Atheneum Books For Young Readers
- Publication date: February 25, 2020
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 8 - 12
- Number of pages: 256
- Available on: Hardback, Kindle
- Last updated: April 14, 2020
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