Title: We Could Be Heroes
Author: Margaret Finnegan
Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction
Number of Pages: 256
At first I wasn’t sure whether I’d like this book because it seemed like it was written for very young middle grade readers but I’m glad I gave it a chance, because I ended up absolutely loving it. It’s a little darker than expected, but it’s also an emotional and sometimes tense read with two unforgettable lead characters. It’s also a heart-tugging portrait of good intentions gone awry.
Ten-year-old Hank is on the autism spectrum, and knows a lot more about rocks than he does about people. He’s often overwhelmed at home and school, and when his teacher makes him read a tragic historical novel set during the Holocaust with the rest of his class, Hank tries to destroy the book in the boys’ bathroom and ends up inadvertently setting the place on fire and causing some serious property damage.
He ends up being suspended but when he comes back to school a girl named Maisie starts to show an interest in him. Recognizing a fellow sensitive soul fed up with the injustice in the world, Maisie enlists Hank to help her save her neighbor’s chained-up pit bull, who suffers from seizures.
Initially Maisie is more or less manipulating Hank, who has no friends and is unusually susceptible to influence by his peers. As they begin to form a lasting friendship, however, Hank slowly comes to realize that there’s more to the situation with the neighbor’s dog than meets the eye. But is it too late to prevent a series of potentially disastrous decisions from being made?
Maisie really got on my nerves at first because I felt very protective of Hank, and she was using him and putting him in some seriously bad situations where he felt like he needed to lie to his parents and go against what his common sense was telling him. The thing was she really wanted to do the right thing and she was a black-and-white thinker like Hank, except maybe even more so.
The two main characters were very well-written and remained both consistent and believable throughout, while also maturing and growing as people by the end of the story. I’ve had some of the things that happened to Hank happen to me too (like having to read an triggering book in a classroom environment,) and instead of appearing to have low empathy like a stereotypical person on the spectrum, Hank had so much empathy that just dealing with the unfairness and sadness that comes with being alive was completely overwhelming.
His parents were wonderfully supportive but sometimes they just couldn’t provide him with all the help that he needed. This book also had a great representation of pit bulls and is a natural win for people who never fit in as kids and animal lovers, as well as people who often find navigating daily life and social situations to be a struggle (even if they aren’t on the autism spectrum.) This book is as compelling and well-developed as any novel written for adults and I’d highly recommend it to readers of all ages.
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