Book Review: Heat Wave by TJ Klune ★★★

TJ Klune wraps up his YA superhero trilogy, The Extraordinaries, with Heat Wave which sees teenager Nick launching into his superhero career, as well as launching into his fully-fledged relationship with Seth. Quick note: being the last part of a trilogy, there’s no way to avoid spoilers for the previous books in this review.

Nick has gone from superhero fanfic writer to superhero himself, an ‘Extraordinary’, now going by the name Guardian, his mother’s old moniker. He’s still not very good at it, and his command of his telekinetic powers is, well, temperamental at best. It doesn’t help that his ADHD tends to get his mind running away with him, writing new catch phrases instead of being in the moment. His boyfriend Seth, aka Pyro Storm, is trying to coach him and their cabal of friends and family, the Lighthouse, are there to help. But things get dicey when an old enemy (Nick’s ex-boyfriend) comes back into town, and Nick starts to suspect there’s something weird going on with his mother too…

Heat Wave hits a lot of superhero storylines that will be familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of Marvel comics. A core story involves a version of the Superhero Registration Act, as a local politician is campaigning on a platform to force all Extraordinaries to register with the government. The Extraordinaries are also put into the position of having to protect people who are actively trying to bring them down, or as the X-Men would say, they are “sworn to protect a world that fears and hates them”. But it’s clear that Klune is winking at the audience. As one character says:

“Former enemies coming back out of the blue for revenge like this is some self-serious sequel… doesn’t that happen all the time in comics?”

The twist to the lore here is that the Extraordinaries are queer, AF. Nick and Seth are contemplating taking the next step in their sexual relationship together. In one of the signature comedy moments Nick, trying to decide whether he’s a bottom or top, is caught googling enema’s by his dad, leading to a hilarious discussion between an over-prepared father and a mortified son. The other members of the Lighthouse, Gibby and Jazz, are a lesbian couple. And they are aided by another Extraordinary, the drag queen Miss Conduct. Adding Nick’s neurodiversity into the mix gives the series an edge over other queer superhero fare. This is a series not afraid to be a voice for the often underrepresented.

The plot has a number of twists and turns, in keeping with the superhero genre, and a few unexpected reversals, but overall it isn’t particularly complex. A lot of the page space is spent dealing with Nick’s relationships. It’s clear Klune was keen for the series to model a healthy young gay relationship with frank discussions of sex, body image and honest communication. There’s also a lot of discussion about the role of the police and politicians that tries to get into the nuances modern readers will expect. 

But don’t worry, this isn’t a stale diatribe. There are more quips than a Spider-Man movie and more banter than a whole season of Buffy. In fact these kids almost never shut up, to the point where it feels like their conversations might outrun the action, but Klune knows when to get the plot machinations kicking into high gear. 

Klune works hard to keep the book accessible to new readers, but let’s be honest, you’re not going to jump into a trilogy with the final part. But if you’ve enjoyed the series so far, you’ll get a kick out of its conclusion. And if YA ‘superqueeroes’ sounds like something you’d be into then this series should make you pretty happy. How Klune manages to turn out entertaining books so quickly meanwhile is still a mystery to me. Maybe that’s his superpower? 

By Chad Armstrong

Heat Wave: The Extraordinaries Book 3 by TJ Klune is published on July 19 2022 by Macmillan-Tor. Pre Order now from your local indie bookseller or the usual online retailers.

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