I was startled. "I missed the bus..."
"I called the school. Ms. Elp looked in all your usual places, and you weren't there."
"Well..." I fought a minor panic that she'd called the school and I wasn't around, but I was also totally confused. Why did she need to look for me in the first place?
"I'm not late, or anything..." In fact, with Lina driving us more directly than the bus, I was a little early.
Lina leaned over and stuck her head out the passenger window. "Hello, Mrs. Charters. I'm Lina Porter."
My mother glanced at her, then glared at me. "We don't have time for your friends right now. I need you in the house."
I looked at Lina, who looked as confused as me, and a little angry. I shrugged emphatically. "I--I guess I have to go..."
"Can I still call you for Saturday?"
"Yes!" I pulled a pen out of my jeans pocket, grabbed her hand, and quickly scrawled my number on her palm. Lina beamed like it was the combination to Fort Knox.
My mother stood by the front door. I could hear the television inside, which was another oddity for a weekday afternoon. "Right now, Nathan!"
Lina backed her car out of the driveway and onto the street. I could see her watching me in the rear view mirror as she drove away.
I followed my mother into the house.
"Have you heard the news?"
She looked at me, her mouth slightly open, and shook her head. "That explains that." She hustled me into the living room. "Sit down."
I sat down on the couch, facing the television. She stood behind me, her hands gripping the back cushions. There was adrenaline in her perspiration, a sharp tang to my nostrils.
On television, a middle-aged man in a business suit floated over the heads of a crowd of reporters. In the background, the Washington Monument gleamed like bone.
--Excerpt from Brave Men Run by Matthew Selznick
Brave Men Run is an interesting take on the superhero genre. It follows Nate Charters--an outsider with an unusual appearance and special abilities that he must keep secret--as he deals with the daily trials and tribulations of high school. Then Dr. William Donner appears on the scene, declaring to the world that super-powered humans exist and they are demanding autonomy. Before long, Nate finds himself caught up in a world entering the Sovereign Era and the confusion of learning the truth of where he came from and what happened to his father.
This is my first exposure to a podcast novel turned into a published one. I've never really been into the whole podcast fiction thing. It's not that I don't think there's value in them, it's just that I've never found them particularly interesting and some of the key players have become, in my opinion, a bit full of themselves, which really irritates me when it comes to writers. There needs to be a lot more humility in the podcast community.
But none of this really influenced how I felt about Brave Men Run coming in. Brave Men Run is a fairly short novel, clocking in at 227 pages (with a fairly large typeface). The one thing that should be made clear about this novel is that it is not an action-packed superhero story. Brave Men Run focuses on the characters, putting them first and the events happening in the world second. This is, for me, a different approach to the genre: I'm used to explosions and superhero battles; this novel isn't about such things, but about what these characters go through as the world around them changes. All of this is a strength for Brave Men Run. Selznick has managed to create a character-driven story about people with special abilities (and their friends and family). The characters are fairly realistic and the story progresses at a pace that seems worthy of their struggles.
I think calling Brave Men Run's vision part Stan Lee (as one of the blurbs on the back says) is misleading, because this is not a story about superheroes living daily lives. Nate isn't a superhero, and he doesn't really want to be one either. He has gifts, but he is not running about saving people or blowing up buildings. I'm not sure what you'd compare it to, because I have little exposure to stories like this. I think this goes with the territory these days: we're seeing more novels put out there that take cliche elements and drag them into areas not usually explored. We have vampire novels that have little to do with the popular blood-sucking renditions and now a novel about extraordinary people living normal lives.
The only problem I had with Brave Men Run was the beginning. The first few chapters failed to grab me immediately primarily because the writing style is simplistic. The writing isn't bad (there are some noticeable flaws), just straightforward. The more I read, however, the more I found myself interested in the characters and what was going on. This is a novel that grows on you, and it all has to do with the characters, who seem to become more life-like the more you read. Selznick has put together an entertaining story, if not a little flawed.