Cape (The League of Secret Heroes)

Written by Kate Hannigan
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

Josie O’Malley loves puzzles and superhero comics. She wonders where all the superheroes went—Fantomah, Black Cat, and others used to protect the innocent. Her father is away fighting in World War II, and Josie wishes she could help. She answers an advertisement for “puzzle experts to help fight the Nazis” and meets Mae and Akiko. In a strange turn of events, the three are infused with power and become superheroes. The only thing standing between an evil villain, a German spy ring and a secret U.S. government project are our three girl superheroes.

Cape is told in prose interspersed with black-and-white graphic novel panels. The pacing is off in places, such as when the girls rush off to rescue someone and stop to order breakfast—then don’t eat, remembering they are in a hurry. Fight scenes include awkwardly slow passages of conversation. Many story details are unrealistic, such as when Josie’s brothers regularly say they are tired and want to go to bed. Some of this is expected in the superhero comic genre: parents and friends don’t recognize the three girl superheroes—that’s how it works in comics. Still, I had trouble suspending my disbelief in places.

I applaud the strong female characters and the diversity of the superheroes: Josie is Irish-American, Mae is African-American, and Akiko is Japanese-American. Cape is told in the first person by Josie, so readers get her background and not much of Mae’s and Akiko’s, who are little more than diverse sidekicks. Hopefully, the next books in the series will be from the other girls’ perspectives. Although I did not feel like the setting of 1940s Philadelphia was developed much, the author’s notes have good information about real-life historical spies, female computers, and comic superheroes.  For ages 8-12.