July 5, 2016
Evie Tanaka has spent much of her life being best friends with superhero Aveda Jupiter (born Annie), and it’s not exactly a charmed life despite the exciting career she gets to participate in. Being a superhero’s personal assistant is rather perilous, after all, especially when demon cupcakes insist on biting into your flesh. But that’s Evie’s life, and it’s Aveda’s road to fame and glory, and Evie’s pretty set on keeping things this way. That is, until Evie has to pretend to be Aveda and finds her friend’s shoes easier to fill than expected, considering the latent superpowers that Evie’s been trying to hide for years.
I can happily admit that Heroine Complex is the kind of unabashedly fun and emotional novel I’ve been looking for, and the fact that it stars not just one, but two Asian-American women brings me a lot of joy. What’s more, Evie and Aveda aren’t carbon-copies of each other, or constantly at each other’s throats. They’re two 20-something women who make weird choices, experience some truly surreal events, and still argue with themselves about what to have for dinner. In other words, they’re beautifully real characters, and it’s all too easy to want to follow them as they kick demon ass in San Francisco.
But it is Evie who narrates the novel, and it’s Evie whose identity is a little imperiled at the start of the story. Aveda has always been the one to lead, and Evie’s world has always revolved around her. Kuhn isn’t interested in setting their friendship up to fail, however. We see Evie and Aveda trying to re-evaluate their place in the world and in each other’s lives throughout the novel, and their history is never diminished. These girls are important to each other, Kuhn reminds us, and they need each other in ways even they don’t see all the time. It’s a celebration of platonic soulmates that will likely make readers want to call up their own best friends to reconnect, and Kuhn reinforces the importance of connections like those.
On another level, Kuhn gives Evie room to grow even as she works on her friendship with Aveda. Work and hobbies are part of who we are, and Evie wrestles with her ambitions as much as she does with her new superpowers. There’s a confidence that develops over the course of Evie’s narration where you can tell she’s not subconsciously relying on snark to get her through awkward situations anymore, where you can see her learning what it really means to be comfortable in her own skin. Even the romance takes time to develop, with Evie’s characterization taking up far more time and pages in the novel. That said, Aveda isn’t left to languish off-page. Her motivations and character arc, while maybe a little more obvious than Evie’s, are still given room to breathe and grow and meet Evie’s.
Kuhn likewise doesn’t skip out on some really fun action sequences in the novel, opening up the story with a rather dangerous encounter with the aforementioned demon cupcakes, and connecting the mystery of these demons’ origin to Evie and Aveda’s life in San Francisco. And speaking of fun, Evie’s flirting and some subsequently steamy scenes with a love interest are so endearing that I had to put the book down several times, giggling at her awkwardness. The writing style Kuhn employs is snappy, engaging, moving from witty jokes to comic descriptions to silly one-liners. It matches Evie’s whip-smart personality, and Aveda’s clever voice, wrapping the story up neatly.
Heroine Complex is one of the most genuinely satisfying novels I’ve read in years, and it makes that happen in its commitment to the story at hand. It doesn’t downgrade or dismiss the fact that it’s about two young women trying to figure out their lives; it celebrates them and their choices. Sarah Kuhn has created a story that gives two Asian girls a range of triumphs and mistakes to live through and made the reader’s journey delightful and worthwhile. She delights in Evie and Aveda and their friendship and invites readers to do the same. I sure did.