In an attempt to read outside my usual genres and authors, I ventured into my library’s general fiction section and came across the book Vigilante by Shelley Harris. As the name might suggest, it’s a superhero novel, but with a few differences.
The heroine is a mother in her forties. She’s got no powers, and her decision to be a hero is due to a chance encounter when she’s dressed up for a fancy dress party, rather than a conscious decision or the aftermath of some radioactive encounter. She’s also not your usual heroine because she isn’t stunningly beautiful or massively successful: she’s a little overweight and doesn’t entirely know how to get through to her fourteen-year-old daughter the way she did when she was younger.
It took me a while to get into the book because I couldn’t really relate to the character the way I usually can with YA books — I may be edging out of the teenage age range, but at least I can remember what it’s like to be fifteen, whereas I’ve never been in my forties. It was strange to realise I related more to the protagonist’s daughter than the protagonist herself (especially as the daughter is gay with a fondness for Sarah Waters’ novels).
The book also has a bit of a slow start, as it takes Jenny (the protagonist) a while to get to the vigilante stage, and there’s a lot of build-up where we see her normal life. Since this wasn’t a life I could really engage with, I found myself getting a bit bored in the first fifty or a hundred pages. But that changed.
While it’s not the most fast-paced book in the world, I found myself getting thoroughly engaged in the story and honestly couldn’t put it down. Jenny’s transformation is gradual as she takes self-defence classes and learns how not to lose the fights she keeps picking with the town’s criminals and hoodlums, which makes it all the more realistic, but there’s enough going on to keep things engaging.
I did like the realistic slant — the way the police reacted to the idea of vigilante justice, for example, and the way that things weren’t fixed instantly by a mask. I also liked how Jenny gradually became more confident as she learned how to look after herself.
And then the real drama starts, and that’s where I would slap a trigger warning on the book for rape. Although there’s nothing on-page, this is the main crime that Jenny ends up trying to protect her daughter and her friends from, and there are numerous discussions about it, some of them more expilicit than others. While the book is on the whole more light-hearted than some of what I read, these sections in particular weren’t pleasant, and I wouldn’t want somebody to go into the book unawares and find themselves feeling very uncomfortable as a result.
So if you’re aware that that’s a theme in the book and can deal with it, you’ll find yourself hooked by a race against time that has very personal links to Jenny as she tries to look after her daughter, because several girls from her year at school have been attacked. The plot develops throughout the book with various ideas being presented earlier that then prove significant, and while it’s probably possible to guess the culprit, it certainly isn’t obvious or easy.
In the end, this is an enjoyable and optimistic novel about what it’s like to step outside of your own life and be a hero for real. It probably could have been trimmed down a little at the beginning, but that may just be my repsonse as somebody who usually reads YA, which often has less of a setup, and on the whole I found myself thinking about it even after I’d put it down, and kept wanting to read more.