Bitter Sixteen is a new take on the teenage superhero finding his powers [Review]


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Bitter Sixteen
By Stefan Mohamed 
Published by Salt 
ISBN 978 1 78463 013 3

Superheroes are everywhere. We can't go to the cinema or into a bookshop without one popping up to astound and entertain us.

Many of the superhero stories floating around at the moment are origin stories or reboots, telling us how our heroes got their powers. Were they ordinary people who suddenly woke up with exceptional abilities? Or did they accidentally get bitten by a spider in a lab?

So, with so many heroes out there, how does an author find a new angle and create a new character that doesn't seem like all the rest? Stefan Mohammed has done just that. In Bitter Sixteen he has created a superhero like no other: 16-year-old Stanly Bird.

Stanly is hardly superhero material. His life in a rural British town is boring. He has no friends, and his parents are too interested in arguing to pay him any attention.

But when Stanly turns 16, he develops amazing strength, the ability to fly, and the power to move objects at will. This sounds like a typical origin story, but Mohamed is such a talented and creative writer that everything about Stanly and his story works brilliantly well.

Common sense tells our hero that it would be better all around to keep his superpowers under wraps. But when Ben, the school alpha male, hassles a girl Stanly likes, he has to do something.

Ben is suddenly lifted off the ground and hurled though the air by some invisible force. Clearly this is going to be investigated, so Stanly decides to get out of town before things really spiral out of control.

With a bag on his back and his faithful dog at his side, Stanly leaves his one-horse town and heads for London. He has been talking to his confidant, cousin Eddie, who has hinted that he knows others who have special powers. Stanly Bird, superhero, is on his way to hone his new skills and use them to fight the bad guys and sort out his future.

It's hard in a short review to make this book sound like more than an average read; far more space is needed to do it justice. At a time when it seems the superhero genre has nowhere else to go, Mohamed convinces otherwise.

Bitter Sixteen is packed with humour, wit, invention and outstanding writing. The quick-fire dialogue and the likeable presence of Stanly himself are a pleasure. The plot contains some fantastic twists and turns and Mohamed's sly throwing-in of geeky references is laugh-aloud funny.

John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]