Marcus Emerson, The Super Life of Ben Braver (Ben Braver #1), Allen & Unwin, March 2018, 320pp., $12.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781760631680
Ben Braver is an ordinary kid living an ordinary life… until he’s chosen to go to a secret academy for kids with superpowers! This is Ben’s chance to be special – once his superpowers kick in, of course… When he discovers the bully from his old school is at the academy too, things go from bad to worse. Ben is so busy trying to bring his powers out he doesn’t notice the strange infection spreading through the school, turning kids into zombies… it’s up to Ben to figure out what’s going on, but he’s got no superpowers and no clue…
This book was a lot of fun to read. In a time when the super hero narrative has been played out more times than anyone wants to count, it’s refreshing to see a new take on the genre. The world of Ben Braver introduces us to a new breed of super, whose powers are sometimes quite unorthodox and unconventional, and certainly not what you would expect (like Penny, the girl who can command animals to do her bidding, but only when she’s playing the ukulele).
Written in the first person from Ben’s point of view, we get a sense of the awkwardness that a lot of kids feel at that age… those limbo years between leaving childhood behind and starting on the path to adulthood… we feel Ben’s struggle to fit in, his wish to be something more than what he is, and we are with him on his journey to discover just what it is that makes him special – which in essence is the journey we all take, to find our true selves.
Emerson has a great writing style that pops with energy and humour. At times it feels like he is styling himself just a little bit after Ernest Cline (Ready Player One), as Ben Braver is peppered with pop-culture references from the 1980s… I’m not sure how many eleven year-olds today would get all of the jokes, unless they had super cool parents (which is not beyond the realms of possibility). Still, as a bona fide child of the 80s myself, I really enjoyed the references and they made the book very enjoyable.
Emerson’s comic book style illustrations throughout the text are brilliant and perfectly reflect the nature of the story.
Ben Braver is definitely pitched at the 10-12 year old age group, but I’m certain that older readers will get a kick out of it too.
Reviewed by Christian Price