Mike Lupica’s new novel for young adults, Hero (Philomel), is impressive as hell. In it, Tom Harriman, who appears to be some sort of government field agent, dies on a top-secret mission, leaving his son Billy without a father. After this intro — which is sort of like the pre-title sequence from a Bond movie — the story is all Billy, all the time, as he mourns his dad, hangs out with his high-society mom and friends, and gradually discovers a set of powers that transform him — attitudinally, not physically — from withdrawn geek to confident hero.

Written in spare, zero-nonsense prose, Hero is a one- or two-sitting read. The moment I started it, I felt instantly involved in Billy’s predicament — as well as in his wonder at what’s happening to him as he tries to learn what really killed his dad.

Throughout the book, Lupica, using a simple, straightforward story, has crafted a fable about the struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, normal and abnormal. In the world of a teenager, these are major things; hell, in the life of a grown-up they’re major things. But for a teen, they’re formative. I think that’s the difference. Here, Lupica slowly builds a young hero whose DNA is as much about his father as it is about what he believes.

I think the most remarkable thing about the book is the writing itself. There doesn’t seem to be one single extra word. I said above that the writing is spare; well, what’s more spare than spare? It feels as if Lupica wrote a longer version, then whittled away every syllable he didn’t need. My one beef is that the book’s climax comes too quickly, and is too quickly dispensed with, almost tossed off. I wanted, at that moment, to have time to breathe a little with Billy. To celebrate with him. But that’s minor. The cumulative effect leaves you wanting more — and since Hero is obviously the first of a series, that’s just about the perfect thing to feel. ◊

Tony Buchsbaum, a contributing editor of January Magazine and Blue Coupe, lives in central New Jersey with his wife and sons. These days, he is writing his second novel. Again.

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