The League of Secret Heroes: Cape, Book 1 by Kate Hannigan, illustrations by Patrick Spaziante, 326 pp, RL 4

The League of Secret Heroes
Cape: Book 1
illustrated by Patrick Spaziante
Review Copy from Simon & Schuster

With Cape, soon to be followed by Mask, Hannigan and Spaziante have delivered a hybrid the likes I have never read before! A mash-up of historical fiction (peppered with remarkable real-life women from history) and superhero comics, what excites me most about what Hannigan brings to this series is the focus on minorities, discrimination and racism, from Japanese Americans in internment camps (while family members fight in WWII) to African Americans to Irish Americans and the many women who made up the workforce during the war, from working in shipyards to undercover work as human computers. Hannigan sets her story in a Philadelphia that has streets named after superheroes and honorific statues of them throughout the city. All this adds up to make for an incredible story, one that is sending me back to the history books to freshen up my knowledge of this amazingly rich time in our country's history.
Spaziante contributes four twelve-page chapters that superbly support the superheroes of Cape, giving characters an added depth, starting with red-headed narrator Josie O'Malley, a Zenobia comic book rolled up in the back pocket of her wide-legged trousers. We first see her sweeping up in front of Gerda's Diner, where she works part-time, when not in school, protecting her little brothers from bullies or taking care of them at night while her Mam works a second job at the shipyard. Josie and her buddy Emmett are puzzle fanatics who enter a contest for young puzzlers hoping to help the war effort by cracking codes. It is at this contest where Josie's world changes forever. She meets fellow test takers Akiko Nakano from San Francisco and Mae Eugenia Crumpler from Chicago, sees a superhero - one she thought had disappeared years ago - vaporized before her eyes, and has the ghost of another superhero speak to her from beyond, telling her, Akiko and Mae how to harness powers they never knew they had and save office workers from a fire.

Josie, Akiko and Mae barely have time to process their change from puzzle-loving-girls to masked, caped superheroes with shapeshifting, weather-changing and mind-reading powers as the mysterious, commanding Mrs. Boudica (I hope readers will google her namesake . . . ) takes them under her wing and into the folds of her secret operation supporting the war (and superheroes), they discover that Josie's cousin Kay (McNulty, one of the ENIAC six and a character in this story) is part of the undercover Project PX, where a roomful of women are working to create the world's first electronic computer. On top of this, Emmett has been kidnapped and his puzzling skills are being put to use by the enemy, who is plotting to bomb locations important to the war effort, starting with the shipyard where Josie's Mam is working nights.

Will the girls learn how to harness their superpowers? Will they find their superhero names? Is Josie's friend Harry really working for the Germans and can the girls rescue Emmett? Can they thwart the Nazi plot to destroy the ENIAC computer and the six women who are the primary programmers? Does Mrs. Boudica have a secret identity, and what happened to the disappeared superheroes? All these questions and more will keep readers turning pages and waiting anxiously for the next book in this stellar series!

Back matter includes an author's note that is sort of an origin story for this series. She includes generous information on the ENIAC Six, having contacted the families of Kay McNulty and Jean Jennings, who share photographs (included) and other information with her. Additional information about spy rings and radio news reports conclude, along with recommended resources.

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