Greg Van Eekhout’s 2021 Weird Kid is a stand-alone middle school science fiction novel.
Jake Wind is a student at Cedar Creek View’s1 middle school. It’s his first day at middle school and it is going to be stressful. This is true for most of the new kids there but it’s extra-super-true for him. Like most kids his age, he’s experiencing unfamiliar physical changes. Unlike most kids, he is subject to transformations that are both rapid and extreme. Jake, you see, is a shape-shifting space monster from beyond the stars2!
Inadvertent shape-shifting aside, however, Jake is just a kid so it’s off to school for him.
His adoptive human parents have taught Jake to be very very careful. He’s so careful that he has inadvertently alienated his best friend. But now, first day of school, he realizes that he has caught the attention of a fellow student. Has his caution been for naught?
Agnes Oakes is bright and observant. She’s a comic book fan and (although she is extremely reluctant to admit it) a would-be superhero. All of this adds up to a kid who is looking for the odd and supernatural and in this case, thinks she has found it.
Just the sort of person Jakes does not want to find seated near him in class. Luckily for Jake, Agnes thinks he is cool and interesting rather than a threat. He gets a new friend and ally, rather than a nemesis. Most excellent news for Jake.
But to pull back and take a wider view: Jake isn’t the only odd thing in Cedar Creek View. He’s not the only glob monster in town. However, he is the only monster who has been raised by kind, well-meaning humans. The others of his kind are not only undomesticated, they’ve fallen under the sway of an ambitious human visionary. For the visionary, the inhabitants of Cedar Creek View are at best ignorant bystanders. If they interfere, they will become collateral damage on the road to a better tomorrow.
The lives of all the humans and animals in Cedar Creek View may well depend on the determination and ingenuity of a would-be superhero and her shape-shifting alien pal.
Note for authors: although Van Eekhout’s title has two fairly common words, the book is still easy to find on the various online book seller sites. Heed this example.
I suspect it’s no coincidence that Nite Kite, the superhero whose comics Agnes enjoys above all, bears many similarities to a certain chiropter-themed costumed adventurer, from tragically slain parents to a vigorous physical regimen3 intended to turn them into a living weapon4. For that matter, there are a lot of parallels between foundling Jake and a certain Last Son of a Planet Named for a Noble Gas.
Some readers might point out similarities between Jake and a certain man-hunting Martian. They exist, but are eclipsed by parallels between Jake and the utterly terrifying monster in John W. Campbell’s novella Who Goes There? Jake is just as capable as the Thing of consuming and assimilating anyone and anything that he encounters. He doesn’t, because he’s been raised well. His relatives on Earth, on the other hand …
Given the powers possessed by Jake and his kin, given the activities of certain profit-oriented geniuses little inhibited by any sense of ethics, it would have been very easy for this book to take an extremely horrific turn. Van Eekhout manages to steer clear of that: bad stuff happens but the text and the kids manage to maintain an inspirationally upbeat view of it all. Perhaps that’s the real superpower.
1: I know readers will be as alarmed as I was to discover that Cedar Creek View lacks cedar trees and a creek. Presumably it has a view of something or other.
2: Or at least the small subset of stars between us and Jake’s people’s home system.
3: In story, there are parallels between Night Kite’s backstory and Agnes, including a father stuck down by a villain beyond mortal ability to oppose (a large corporation whose shoddy safety standards are compensated for with a battalion of skilled lawyers).
Despite this grim origin, Agnes enjoys her avocation thanks to a simple credo:
“If you are ever given a chance to climb through air shafts and toss smoke bombs, you absolutely must climb through air shafts and toss smoke bombs.”
Words of wisdom.
4: While many stock superhero maneuvers are beyond Agnes because they are impossible, she has mastered the standard superhero three-point landing. As well, she has improved smoke bomb deployment by adding “Smoke bombs!” (…) “Paff, paff!”