The Simplicity of “Heroine Complex”

Truly diverse characters, leading female protagonists, and a fun ride — it’s not complicated

Diverse” has become such a buzz word recently that it’s pretty much lost its meaning. Diversity went from a desire to see more representation in media to a chore or a check box. As more TV shows and movies desperately try to jump on board the diversity train, books are really the best place to look for representation in media. My personal suggestion? Sarah Kuhn’s new urban fantasy novel Heroine Complex.

Being a superheroine is hard.
Working for one is even harder.

When a mysterious demon portal opened up in San Fransisco and granted a select few miniscule super powers, the portal also created San Fransisco’s favorite super heroine: Aveda Jupiter. Better known as Annie Chang to her long-suffering best friend and personal assistant, Evie Tanaka. Evie and Aveda are both very good in their respective roles, which is exactly how Evie prefers her life. Managing her diva of a best friend, blending into the background, and keeping her own super fire powers a secret. Then everything changed when the fire attacked. No really. After Aveda has a minor accident, Evie has to take her place and learns what it means to be a modern super heroine — the fans, the social media, and the threat of demon attacks.

Heroine Complex doesn’t get much more complex than that. Her world building is pretty solid, the story moves along nicely, it’s a fun read with realistic, fully formed characters. Well, the female ones at least, the men are a little 2D but I’m not complaining. The deeper reasons I love Heroine Complex lie in the simple details about identity and relationships that hardly get any mention.

“There was something deeply ironic about the fact that so many of the ‘exotic’ food items that had gotten us teased and bullied by our white classmates were now fetishized by white hipsters.”

Kuhn didn’t set out to create some great big commentary on society or human nature. She wrote a book about something she loves — super heroes, independent women, urban fantasy — and along the way included reflections of everday life. Evie is half-Japanese, Aveda is Chinese with immigrant parents who don’t approve of her profession, the team bodyguard Lucy is lesbian. No fanfare about each of these descriptions, it comes up once or in context clues. Their identities are important to them as characters, but doesn’t dictate the plot.

The “diversity” in Heroine Complex is so simple and natural to the flow of the book it hardly needs addressing. But of course it was a conscious decision on Kuhn, also half-Japanese, who has talked a few times about how more Asian American representation matters to her. Kuhn points out some double standards of being a POC, but each is more of a zing than a preach. Of course two leading Asian American females are one of the main reasons why I had to read her book, but I ended up loving her book for one specific reason: Kuhn’s validation of girls’ anger.

If you can’t tell, I run on outrage. All-caps Twitter or Facebook rants give me life. This blog is founded in part on my constant wealth of rage as a motivation to write. My friends decided that my little Inside Out emotion that runs my brain is Anger. I am an angry Asian. And so is Heroine Complex’s Evie Tanaka. Her frustrations and reaction to them are completely believable, because that’s how most people would reasonably react to diva bosses or attacking demon statues. To say a minor spoiler, the crux of the final battle relies on Evie getting angry, to which she says “Yeah. I don’t think getting mad’s going to be a problem.” In the real world when women are told to be happy, smile, and calm down all the damn time, reading a situation when getting pissed off and blowing shit up to save the city sounds like a dream.

Thanks for the autograph, Sarah Kuhn!

Heroine Complex is the first book in a trilogy, not sure yet when the second one is due, so it’s not too late to catch up. Like any super hero movie, it’s a light, easy book that doesn’t ask too many questions. You can take a deep look at the world with Ava DuVernay’s 13th and Madeline Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, or settle in with The Avengers and Heroine Complex.