Review of “Flash Fire” by TJ Klune, Book Two of “The Extraordinaries” series.

Tor Teen (Publisher’s Website)/ IndieBound/BookShop.Org/ Libro.fm(Audiobook)

SYPNOSIS (From Publisher’s Website):

Flash Fire is the explosive sequel to The Extraordinaries by USA Today bestselling author TJ Klune!

Nick landed himself the superhero boyfriend of his dreams, but with new heroes arriving in Nova City it’s up to Nick and his friends to determine who is virtuous and who is villainous. Which is a lot to handle for a guy who just wants to finish his self-insert bakery AU fanfic.”

REVIEW:
Back in 2008, when I was in high school, there was a superhero novel featuring a gay character that I really enjoyed called Hero by Perry Moore. Ten years later, TJ Klune has written a superhero series featuring a gay character as well. There are such big sociological differences though with these works and how each respective series’ queer characters are featured, Hero dealt more with the psychological struggle of coming-out, whereas in TJ Klune’s superhero series, beginning with The Extraordinaries, deals with larger societal conflicts because a character being gay just happens to be an attribute of the character, and less so something that sows self-hatred/self-abnegating feelings. When you stand back and compare these two equally well-written books, it’s awe-inspiring to behold the progress that’s been made in society towards being more egalitarian of all the different shades and diverse spectrums of human identity.

Perry Moore sadly passed away before his dream of having a Starz television series for Hero was made manifest. The project has seemed to fade away into obscurity and the book itself is out-of-print at this point. Such a travesty given that the book deserves to live on in infamy for the profound role in played for setting the stage for TJ Klune’s Extraordinaries series.

This is a review of the sequel to the first entry in the series,The Extraordinaries, which was in of itself highly addictive, strongly emotive, and just an all-around excellent read. Up to this point, I’ve read two out of the four books in TJ Klune’s Green Creek Series (excellent shape-shifter/werewolf series) and The House in the Cerulean Sea, a one-off novel that is much more gentler in tone/pacing than The Extradionaries. However, for as much as I loved The House in the Cerulean Sea, I actually think the The Extradionaries is my favorite of his series with the newest installment and sequel Flash Fire being my favorite of his books to date.

Flash Fire never peters away in terms of pacing, it picks up right where the last book was, and it explores some fairly contemporary social issues including the issue of systemic racism, and also the book continues to feature a very wide spectrum of LGBT characters beyond just having either a gay/bisexual character, which I think is pretty important, since there are actually quite of a lot of different facets, as we’re learning to both our gender expression and sexuality. None of these qualities are things characters treat as character flaws, or some morose detail of their internal struggle because thankfully we’re long past that now in books being released. So we get to delve into equally as important and more interesting plot concepts, such as the grey morality of superheroes/vigilantes, and how that reflects also on the role of police in our society. There is a tension between the two. And even more interestingly, the antagonistic force being a pharmaceutical company that displays a pretense for wanting to help heroes, when in actuality, helping really means serving to profit through some type of ulterior scheme.

Flash Fire is even more complex which could have made for a tedious, exhausting read, but Klune has a strong ability of balance all these many story strands and have all character, even minor ones, develop into more than just caricatures. They are well-drawn and have their own foibles, as well as distinct expressions and dialogue style, helping to differentiate each of the characters from one another. As someone who struggles with not cobbling together a bunch of characters who feel like their full range of expression is muted by the monotony of mulish meandering world-building in some books, having distinctive characters that transcend beyond the hackneyed stock character is a huge relief for my brain/ occasionally short attention span.

Being a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, filled to the brim with wonderful pop culture references and allusions among the clever dialogue, Flash Fire, much like The Extraordinaries, is populated with many pop culture references that never detract from the book, especially if they’re references to things the reader might not be familiar with. This works in tandem with TJ Klune’s exceptionally great sense of humor too which was another triumph of Buffy being able to balance the melodrama, gut-wrenching stuff alongside well-timed/oftentimes sardonic/biting humor that never felt forced, instead there’s always a character who uses this lines in Shakespearean fashion to work as a catharsis to help the reader to properly grieve or process more difficult scenes. This is a very, very hard thing to balance and accomplish as a writer and it’s one of the reasons I greatly enjoy TJ Klune’s books because this is not at all a pedestrian skill to have as a writer.

Brilliantly, TJ Klune also features an ADHD character as his lead. As someone that likely has ADD to some extent, and has family members who have ADHD, I really appreciated that this book works to normalize those with ADHD, offer more neurodivergent characters. One of my many concerns about the current hostile internet environment with its strident condescension/ruthless sanctimony when it comes to always saying the right stuff/being correct in general with expression is that for those with ADHD people can be particularly vicious to those with ADHD. Those with ADHD as shown through our main character’s struggle are very acutely aware of disappointing someone, and being shamed/shunned for doing something may greatly enfeeble that person from ever improving themselves in a far more encouraging way. Social media is devoid of any grace, forgiveness. It feigns sensitivity in the guise of braggadocios shows of always being right. I cannot think of a worse environment for neurodivergent It’s no wonder those shunned their whole lives in classrooms and elsewhere might venture to darker corridors of the internet, where people, even with the wrong intentions, might actually listen to them, and not dehumanize them, denigrate them.

TJ Klune is even-handed in his ability to write with diversity without it coming off as artificial and fake. There’s no political correctness when a writer works hard to maintain a degree of realism with their characters. If there was one song that kept pummeling its way into my mind while reading this book, it’s Evanescence’s Imperfection from their album Synthesis, something I’ve been listening too over-and-over again for the last four years. The message in this song, as with this series, is imploring us to recognize our intrinsically flawed selves, but not to actualize a thought process of destroying ourselves, giving into the disinclination not to live, to endure, and heal by realizing that there’s nothing wrong with being imperfect.

Even when this summer’s severe allergy season has left me feeling at times extremely tired, cotton-headed due to brain fog, TJ Klune’s terrifically entertaining, heartstring-tugging, at times poignant superhero story starring a boy with ADHD, managed to enliven my mood, impart to me the importance of books that celebrate diversity in all its iterations, and ones that works as a salve/source of empowerment to all of us. Flash Fire is easily my favorite novel of the year thus far and I think it’s TJ Klune’s strongest writing effort to date.

If you enjoyed TJ Klune’s series, you might also greatly enjoy another character-driven series All For the Game by Nora Sakavik. you’re forewarned that this sports drama is unexpectantly addictive, and much like Klune’s books will mostly definitely leave you with one big book withdrawal afterwords.

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