In this YA sci-fi debut, a powerful teen attends college to train his body and mind in helping others.
College freshman Gabriel Green of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, can move objects with his mind. He’s one of many whose superpowers stem from the transits of Venus, which bathe the Earth in gamma radiation filtered through the planet’s atmosphere. In selecting a college, Gabriel decides on the Saboth Institute of America because it offers classes that help gifted individuals hone their abilities. It’s also the home of the famous Dr. Drake, a scientific giant in the field of studying the gifted. On the way, Gabriel’s telekinesis saves the lives of his family during a car accident, bolstering his decision to train. At SIA, he meets his roommate, Jake Burns, a pyrokinetic, and 16-year-old intern Simon Cruz, who can communicate with machines. Gabriel refines his telekinesis under Coach V, and later helps Jake and Simon conduct experiments that will allow Jake better access and control over fire. Gabriel’s also enchanted by a red-haired musician named Serena. But around campus, there’s chatter of students vanishing for unexplained stretches of time. When Serena disappears, Gabriel and his friends leap into action. What they discover cuts to the core of the institute. In his novel, Valencia skillfully pitches his tent in X-Men territory, albeit presenting a world that doesn’t necessarily fear and hate those with powers. Gifted individuals mix in schools across the nation with regular students. Nevertheless, Gabriel chooses his role model, the dedicated Coach V, “not because of things he did, but because of the kind of man he was.” The upbeat narrative introduces a unique caveat in the form of Ferentheil’s laws, which say “that no one can hurt themselves with their own gift.” With a gentle ramp-up to an action-filled finale, the buoyant story flows more like a novella. But readers may feel that smartphone use is underutilized in the plot overall (considering the teenage cast), despite the vivid exploration of Simon’s powers in the end.
In the morally complex genre of superheroes, this tale deftly delivers hope and optimism.