||A Review of: Heck Superhero
by Olga Stein
Thirteen-year-old Heck (short for Hector) has a Theory of Everything.
As he sees it, a Good Deed-any act of kindness or generosity-has
the power to change his microverse', which is to say, the real,
ordinary dimension Heck lives in when he's not his secret superhero
self. Heck has a rich imagination, and moreover, he's a warm, decent
boy, whose difficult personal life makes it natural for him to want
to believe that he has the ability to help himself and those he
loves simply by performing Good Deeds. The Good Deed, imagines Heck,
tips the balance towards the good. It makes good things happen.
What would Heck like to see happen? For one thing, he'd like to
find his missing mother. After being evicted from their apartment
for late payment of rent, she had phoned Heck at his friend Spence's
house. She had told him to ask Spence's parents to let him stay
there for a few days until she managed to straighten things out.
Heck agreed but then decided against alerting Spence's parents to
the fact that his mother has lost their lodgings. Always protective
of his fragile and vulnerable mother, Heck never wants to take a
risk, even with well-meaning people like his best friend's parents.
He's afraid they might contact family-child services and that he'd
end up in a foster home.
Instead of staying at Spence's house, Heck sets out to find his
mother. He knows full well what can happen when she feels overwhelmed
and unable to cope. She retreats into herself, gets lost in hypertime'.
"[Heck] had to get her out of hypertime, keep her from thinking
crazy stuff like that he was better off without her or something.
He had to talk to her before she floated like a dry leaf right out
of this dimension." Throughout her book, Martine Leavitt manages
to convey with sensitivity and literary grace her young protagonist's
understanding of his mother's psychological frailty, his painful
awareness that she could lose her sanity altogether.
Three days after the phonecall, Heck's mother seems entirely out
of reach. She hasn't called again. She isn't at the restaurant where
she has been working. Heck discovers she was fired. She isn't at
her girlfriend's place. She isn't staying with her male friend.
Nor, Heck has finally determined, is she at the local women's
shelter. Meanwhile, Heck has been sleeping in a parked car, cold
and getting grubbier by the day. He has been suffering the terrible
discomfort of aching teeth. Because of the constant pain in his
mouth, he risked taking a pill' which he knew could fry his brains.
He has been arrested and questioned by the police for a minor
misdemeanor he didn't actually commit. And to make matters worse,
the landlord refuses to grant him access to his apartment so that
he can retrieve his portfolio with all of the term's art assignments,
due to be handed in by the end of the week. In three days, Heck's
life has gone from difficult to near unbearable, and this despite
the many Good Deeds he has been doing-like helping a lost child
find her mother, giving $20.00 to a teenaged girl because Heck
thought she needed the money, and cleaning up in the halls of his
apartment building without being asked.
Despite his many difficulties, Heck, like the superhero' he is,
insists on battling the forces of evil in his life alone. He refuses
to accompany Spence to his home and ask for his parents' assistance.
When Heck's concerned art teacher comes to pick him up from the
police station, he won't reveal, despite the man's genuine desire
to help, the extent of his troubles. It is only after he witnesses
the suicide of another teen that he breaks down, and allows himself
to be just a thirteen-year-old who needs others to intervene on his
behalf. Leavitt has created a character who is impossible not to
like-a boy trying with all his might to be a man. And the world he
inhabits is all too familiar in its capacity to ruin the lives of
children and adults. The following is another example of Leavitt's
superb writing. Leavitt gives us Heck's unfocused yet perceptive
reflections after he has swallowed an ecstasy-like drug and is
drifting through downtown in search of his mother:
"Now there were the million-dollar people and the people who
slept under trees and on partk benches. Now there were the BMWs and
the shopping carts; the ones who had memberships to fitness clubs
and the ones who walked all day; the ones who dined out and the
ones who dined outside. Now there was the topworld and there was
Heck loved them all, and why shouldn't he, muscled up as he was,
powered up, coming off the pages, shoulders above his chin, layered
chest, narrow four-paneled abdomen. Why shouldn't he love them, his
poor mortal mother among them, when he could see that they must
live here under the shadowed towers of Metropolis, in one time and
one dimension, and all the evil on the streets hiding in cracks and
Heck moved in frames now, one frame to another, like in a comic
strip, and under his feet were words leading him to his destiny as
a force for good in the world. He remembered he was supposed to be
going to Dierdre's, but he'd forgotten where that was."