Author: A.J. Menden
Scope: Young adult romance – with a dash of superheroes.
Phenomenal Girl 5, better known as Lainey, is living the superhero cadet dream. She has the traditional superpowers of flight, super strength, and feminine charms to match. On top of that, she just got accepted into the Elite Hands of Justice (EHJ for short – the in-universe equivalent of the Justice League of America) and is ready to join the “real” superheros that stop world-ending apocalypses as opposed to simpleton bank robbers!
…or so she thinks.
Lainey first has to get through an internship of sorts with the Reincarnist, a superhero that as the name implies, constantly dies and revives with various inconveniences like memory loss. Along the way, workplace romance blossoms, Lainey learns what superhero life is really about, and the resulting story becomes something along the lines of Stephanie Meyer watching the first few episodes of Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicles and then writing Twilight with superheroes instead of vampires.
Sounding like a crazy romance novel with no clue where it is going, eh? Well such is the main problem with Phenomenal Girl #5. Judging from a lot of average/negative reviews I’ve seen for this novel, readers are coming into the story expecting Phenomenal Girl #5 to be a superhero story with romantic elements. It is not. What we have here is a romance story with superhero elements. While the first quarter of the book promises to be an intriguing superhero story regarding mysterious villains and prophecies, that whole “love at first sight” cliche abruptly takes over with Lainey and the Reincarnist. While the mysterious villain plot slowly but surely gets off the ground resulting in a true super-heroic apocalypse story, superpowered romance fun is always at the forefront, leaving people who wanted to read a superhero story constantly shouting “get back to the action already!”
Rather unfortunate really, as although the main romance plot has some fun moments despite being somewhat contrived (if you thought the speed and convenience of the Bella/Edward romance in Twilight was silly, this book certainly takes it to the logical extreme) there are some really interesting subplots that are never fully developed. In this world superhero life is all about politics, with flashy displays of heroism and good publicity being more important than…say the actual core values of helping people in trouble. An ensemble of interesting superheroes are explored consisting of both close friends of Lainey and EHJ member alike, but outside of a few bullet point characteristics that you’d draw up in one fiction workshop sitting you do not learn much about most of them. Though considering this is but the first book in the series, and the sequel hooks the reader is left with, I have the feeling these subplots will find more development in future novels.
On the bright side, the major characters are well thought out and they show rich development as the novel advances along its quick pace. Lainey grows and matures well enough through the chaos and calamity that develops, but I have to give extra praise to The Reincarnist. Without spoiling anything, the things he goes through as the story progresses provides a very tricky writing challenge, and Menden navigates the character with flying colors.
In the end, Phenomenal Girl 5: The Elite Hands of Justice is a fantastic read for those who like a romance novel with a little bit of punch. If you know a Twilight-fan who does not mind a little bit of action and intrigue slightly beyond that of a Saturday morning cartoon mixed in with their romance, I would highly recommend this book. People who want strict superhero fiction and mystery should look elsewhere.