Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: JUST FOR KICKS by Racheal Renwick

Racheal Renwick’s enjoyable upper-MG novel Just for Kicks tells the story of teenager Meriwether Brookes, an orphan who can’t seem to stop herself from causing trouble at school and with her foster families.  When her latest prank gets her expelled and moved to a new temporary home, Meri’s life looks as if it’s going to continue its downward spiral.
But then Meri meets a girl who can fly.  And it turns out she’s not the only one with special talents.
Recruited to join a group of superhero teens, Meri is whisked away from her world to their hidden lair.  There she discovers her own surprising abilities (which I’m not about to divulge!), verbally spars with the group’s adult supervisor, Ox, and begins to fall for Eli, one of the boys in the group.  She also learns that her parents were superheroes too, killed by the renegade Super known as the Shadowmaker.  And perhaps most importantly, she learns that she alone possesses the power to defeat him.
The greatest strength of Just for Kicks is the character of Meri: full of energy and mischief, bristling with anger at her abandonment, and putting up a show of bravado to hide her feelings of worthlessness.  “I know I’m not a super-anything,” she remarks.  “I don’t deserve to be among people like this.  I couldn’t save the world if I tried.  I am, and will always be, a failure.”  Renwick supplies Meri with a voice that perfectly balances humor, defensiveness, and vulnerability: “I’ve never been a part of any clique before,” she comments of her new school.  “But I don’t think I’d want to; giggling’s not my thing, and I’m pretty sure that’s mandatory.”  Young readers will identify with this lonely girl’s desire for belonging, her wish to “finally be a real kid.”  But they’ll also note that “being a real kid” comes with a catch for Meri, who knows she’ll never fit in until she accepts her superpower—which also means accepting the responsibility of fighting the dreaded Shadowmaker.  The question of whether Meri will be able to overcome her past and embrace her new role in her foster family of Supers keeps the pages of Just for Kicks turning.

Though the writing of Just for Kicks is as lively as its main character, I felt the story moved a bit too fast, and I found myself wishing the author had spent more time describing the superheroes’ lair, the individual powers each teen possesses, and the nature of their world-within-our-world.  It’s perhaps inevitable that Just for Kicks will be compared to the Harry Potter series (orphaned hero trains at elite academy to cultivate world-saving power), and readers may find the alternate world of Renwick’s novel less well-developed than Rowling’s.  This is why one of my favorite scenes in Just for Kicks is the scene in which Meri’s power first manifests itself: it’s one of the most vivid, detailed, and well-realized scenes in the book, and it draws the reader right into Meri’s new world.

I could also wish that the book had a more unique and descriptive title; Just for Kicks didn’t seem to capture the character, the world, or the conflict satisfactorily.

But these are minor reservations about a fun, poignant, and exciting book.  Young readers will enjoy Just for Kicks, and they’ll look forward to reading more from Renwick’s inventive mind.

DISCLOSURE: The author received a free advance PDF of JUST FOR KICKS for review. The author's review is independent and unencumbered.

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