Matthew Cody’s Powerless explores a question we middle school teacher have been grappling with forever. What happens to children when they turn 13? In Cody’s new book, they lose their super powers and become normal teens, just like the rest of us. But I think the commentary in the book goes well beyond what pre-teen and early-teen readers might suspect.
Daniel recently moved to Nobles Green, Pennsylvania with his parents and younger brother to take care of his ailing grandmother. He knows no one, but doesn’t seem to sweat the fact that he’ll start a new middle year in just a matter of days. One day, while playing outside, his little brother rushes into the street after a ball; Mollie, the same age as Daniel, whisks his brother from the street just before he would have been crushed by a passing care. In fact, Daniel is barely able to see her move, so he feels like he might have misinterpreted what happened. When he confronts Mollie, she acts as though she doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But she does.
Daniel manages to get himself into a few more precarious situations that require the assistance of Nobles Green’s finest pre-teen super heroes. Very soon they realize they must let Daniel in on their secret, even though he has no special powers to speak of. His arrival in town is more a gift than a burden to the supers, though. These young super heroes are on a quest to figure out why they lose their powers smack dab on their 13th birthdays. And, since they will all be turning 13 soon, Daniel will play a key role in the discover. Any time supers attempt to stay with another super on the eve of his or her 13th birthday, they also lose their powers. Since Daniel has no super powers, he can sleep over, keep vigil, and potentially figure out what goes on. You see, the super turning 13 has no memory of his or her super powers, and due to the this amnesia, loses contact with the group. Daniel is the lynch pin in a movement to help them extend their powers beyond the age of 13.
The book leaves us with some appropriate questions to ponder. For all practical purposes, teens feel powerless. They crave the independence they perceive adults to enjoy, but they are stymied at every turn. But they are saddled with not being old enough to do many of the things adults do, while taking on very adult-looking physiques and many of the urges that come with adulthood. Daniel begins feeling these urges for Mollie, and you get the sense that she feels the same way, not that either of them know what to do or how to talk about it. They are powerless to act because they don’t yet have the skills or abilities to do so.
The book could also be about sucking the power of childhood away from kids when they hit the ripe, old age of 13. Ok, maybe the number is just a random one, chosen by the author it is the age most kids think about as the entry point to pseudo-adulthood. We do call 13-year-olds “young adults.” Maybe Cody is trying to say that by immersing this age group in many of the events and conundrums our generation faced at a much older age, we are taking away the power of childhood. I don’t know. As an adult, that’s what I thought of while I read the book. I would be interested to hear your takes on the book. Let me know.