Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is based upon her web comic, a winner of the Slate Cartoonist Studio Prize for best Web Comic. Quickly we meet a lively, tough, “heroine” named Nimona who appears on the scene ready to kick some butt and become the sidekick to Lord Blackheart, an outcast who is no longer affiliated with the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. (What exactly is that anyway?) However, Lord Blackheart doesn’t want a sidekick or companion despite Nimona’s insistence otherwise and she must prove she can be a valuable ally. In this action-driven narrative, the reader discovers Nimona is a shapeshifter (imagine evolving identities such as wolf, shark, cat, and dragon) determined to join evil Lord Blackheart to bring destruction upon the Institute. The comics are dynamic, bright, colorful and energetic, moving the story along at a rapid pace. At a Science Expo, a mad scientist presents his Anomalous Energy Enhancer that he thinks will change the world. Add this to the mix and you find fantasy and science fiction elements intertwined in this rare battle of evil vs evil. Uncontrolled emotions of anger and despair move the plot along. My big question is “Where is Nimona at the end of the tale?” Will the Institute recover from her destruction and will Lord Blackheart and his foe Goldenloin fight another day? I was entertained, but I wanted more resolution and more back story about these characters.
The second title of this match up is Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld. Immediately, one is caught up in this suspenseful drama when Ethan, alias Scam, gets mixed up in a drug deal. All he wanted was a ride home! But now he has stolen a car filled with money and he can’t go home. The reader soon discovers that Scam has a super power-a voice inside him says whatever you (the listener) want to hear. He is certainly in grave danger. He will need to be rescued by his former friends. (The “voice” tore them apart.) And he isn’t the only one with unusual powers as we soon follow Crash, Flicker, Anonymous, and Bellwether! In alternating chapters, we see the action unfold and follow their struggles. We meet a sixth teen also blessed or cursed with a super power. As the novel is written from different points of view, it quickly becomes a page turner. Themes include belonging, family issues, self-esteem, and community. There are plenty of contemporary issues that will appeal to teens. “Zeroes” might want to be heroes, but there is a lot at stake and is it worth risking their lives for someone in danger who they don’t even know? I couldn’t put this one down. I was totally hooked from the start.
I vote for Zeroes because I believe it will be a stronger contender in the tournament. I was interested in the interpersonal relations between the characters as much as the exciting adventures. I think teens would be fascinated about the super powers these characters possess. I recognize that Nimona, featuring a comic character portrayed as a shapeshifter, brings a unique story to readers, however I don’t think this story would have as wide an appeal to all readers.
WINNER: ZEROES BY SCOTT WESTERFELD
Reviewed by Ruth Anne Mielke, Bartlett Public Library