“This is taking too long. I just want to pay for the shit and go. It’s not like I’m actually breaking the law or anything—except it totally feels like I’m breaking the law.”
– Opening of Dreadnought
Dreadnought is a young adult superhero novel about a transgender girl named Danny who takes on the mantle of a hero known as Dreadnought after he passes away right in front of her. Although Dreadnought chose to pass on his powers to her before his death, and this is far from the first time such a thing has happened, some of his former colleagues question whether Danny truly deserves to become one of them. You see, when Dreadnought chose her, Danny looked like a boy. And now that her new powers have given her the body that she’s always dreamed of, it’s going to be an uphill battle for acceptance. Her parents, her friends, and the older superheroes all have something to say about it, and that’s besides the fact that the villain who murdered the original Dreadnought is still on the loose and planning something nefarious. When Danny is forced to fight battles both in costume and out, will she be able to overcome it all and become the person (and the hero) that she’s truly meant to be?
This book has a unique and engaging premise that created a great setup for a story in which the hero has amazingly strong powers and yet faces extremely difficult problems. Most teenagers can’t relate to the challenges of stopping a plane from crashing into the ocean, but many can easily relate to having parents who don’t understand them, classmates who treat them badly, and authority figures who have conflicting and sometimes unfair expectations. This book does a good job balancing the ordinary with the extraordinary and keeping the reader interested in both. Danny’s problems at home matter just as much as the super-powered conflicts, and I enjoyed seeing that.
I thought that the world building in this book was also fun and engaging. It has a different take than any other book I’ve read on the way that superpowers emerged and how various types of them work. I was particularly interested in how it handles the concept of super geniuses in a world that still has technology largely the same as our modern world. I also liked seeing how some types of powers work completely differently than others, to the point where some heroes are as baffled as ordinary people as to how one of their colleagues does what they do. The book also explores some ideas of what it would really be like to have super heroes around, in terms of how they relate to each other and world governments and ordinary people, all while discrimination and inequality and other social ills are very much alive and well. I wouldn’t say the book is dark, but it doesn’t sugarcoat things either.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good superhero story. I think it may appeal to teenagers more than to adults, but I enjoyed it regardless, and I know that other adults read YA as well. It seemed to provide a good window into what it would be like to be a transgender teenager, so I would also recommend it to anyone who has an interest in exploring that topic or anyone facing similar struggles who wants to read about a hero they can relate to.