Saturday, August 24, 2019

Cape (The League of Secret Heroes) Book 1 by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Patrick Spaziante

The most frustrating part of WWII for schoolgirl Josie O'Mally is that she can't fight like her dad has been doing ever since Pearl Harbor was attacked. On top of that, all her favorite the comic book superheroes have mysteriously disappeared from Philadelphia and no one knows why. Gone are Zenobia, her sister the Palomino, Hauntima, Hopschtch, Nove the Sunchaser and just when they are needed most. Now, however, Josie, a Irish immigrant, has a chance to do something for the war effort, thanks to an ad in the newspaper calling for puzzle experts to help fight the Nazis and it just so happens that she is a whiz at solving puzzlers and ciphers. All applicants have to do is take a qualifying exam in the Carson Building downtown.

But just as the exam is ending, Josie begins to wonder why the proctor, Hank Hissler, is separating the exams by gender - girls to the left, boys to the right. Her thoughts are interrupted when a tall woman with a dog burst into the room demanding to know what Hissler is doing and if it is approved by Room Twelve. And it looks like the very same woman and dog Josie had seen earlier at the diner where she works part-time. Needless to say, the exam abruptly ended, but Josie surprised and dismayed to see he Hissler dump the test papers of the females, and just take those of the males. Josie isn't surprised to discover that her best friend Emmet Shea has also taken the test - after all, they are partners in puzzling.

As it happens, the woman, Mrs. Constance Boudica, or Mrs. B., and her dog Astra have been observing each girl, recognizing their innate courage, intelligence, strength, desire to fight injustice in the hope they can become part of the League of Secret Heroes.

In the elevator, Josie meets two of the other girls who took the exam. Akiko Nakano is a Japanese American from San Francisco. Her family is living in an internment camp, her brother is serving in the army's all Japanese 442nd regiment, and she is living with cousins in Philadelphia. Also there is Mae Crumpler, an African American from Chicago, Illinois who is living with her grandmother, a librarian, for the summer. The three of them get to talking and discover they have two things in common - they love superhero comics and solving puzzles and ciphers. But when they come into physical contact with each other, they really set of sparks - sparks that give them temporary super powers.

Now, they can not only fight neighborhood bully Tobe Hunter and his gang who took Josie's younger brother's new bikes, but they can also search for Emmett, who has gone missing, and most importantly, they can fight the Nazis who are plotting dastardly deed in Philadelphia - if only they could think up a good name for themselves. Their first order of business - rescue the six women, including Josie's cousin Kay, involved in developing a computer that will help win the war - and one that the Nazis would love to get their hands on.

Cape is a fun book to read. First of all, some of the chapters begin using comic book panels before slipping back into prose, much that way superheroes slip in and out of their secret identities. Secondly, it is part historical fiction and part fantasy, and yes, it slips in and out of those two genres, as well. Thirdly, there plenty of action, and even the ghost of one of the missing superheroes, Hauntima, who helps the girls with words of encouragement as they fight the arch rival of the women of Room Twelve. I also liked that fact that as the girls don't start of as perfect superheroes, but learn little by little what their individual powers and abilities are and how to effectively use them. The only power they have in common is flying, but working together they become greater than the sum of their powers. There isn't a dull moment in this novel, not even when they are on the ground just being their usual selves.

The language in Cape is straightforward but has a snappiness to it that has always been so characteristic of comic books. And Hannigan has really captured the everyday details of the period (I remember my mother saying how much she also hated spam and spam hash during the war). Hannigan also touched on the prejudice of the period regarding people who are African American, Japanese American, and German American. And yet, Josie, Mae, and Akiko all have loved ones fighting in the war for the Allies. Other themes in the book are loss, betrayal, and disappointment.

And there really were six women working on a programable computer called ENIAC in Philadelphia during the war (read the Author's Note for more on that and more about Hannigan's inspiration for The League of Secret Heroes series).

All in all, this is a great novel and I can't wait to read the next two - Mask and Boots.

You can download an extensive Curriculum Guide to use in the classroom for Cape HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library

And you just might want to enjoy this wonderful book trailer:

Be Sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle.  Thank you, Greg.


  1. This isn't really my cup of tea, but I have a granddaughter who might like it. Thanks for your review.

  2. The author has an interesting approach to presenting the story. Her technique should attract many readers. I'll be tracking this one down myself to give it a look. Thanks for featuring it on MMGM.

  3. This looks quite interesting. I love that it has a historical aspect to it. (I'm a history nut.)