If real superheroes existed, you know we’d be obsessed with them. TJ Klune’s forthcoming Young Adult novel imagines a reality in which superheroes save the day—and their adoring fans immortalize them by publishing fan fiction, drawing fan art and even plastering their favorite sequined crusader’s face on pillows (available for purchase on Etsy, of course). Titled The Extraordinatories, the book centers around a gay teen with ADHD who loves a superhero named Shadow Star.
The novel, which is the first in a trilogy, is being marketed as Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl meets Marissa Meyer’s Renegades. And the description has already hooked us:
Some people are extraordinary. Some are just extra.
Nick Bell? Not extraordinary. But being the most popular fanfiction writer in the Extraordinaries fandom is a superpower, right?
After a chance encounter with Shadow Star, Nova City’s mightiest hero (and Nick’s biggest crush), Nick sets out to make himself extraordinary. And he’ll do it with or without the reluctant help of Seth Gray, Nick’s best friend (and maybe the love of his life).
We’re excited to reveal the cover, which was designed and illustrated by David Curtis:
“When I was a kid, I used to carry around this notebook and fill it with stories about fighting against Mother Brain alongside Samus Aran, the heroine of the videogame Metroid,” Klune tells Paste. “Even though I was only eight or nine years old, I was writing fan fiction (not knowing it was called that) because I wanted to be in the story, too. Nick, in a way, is like me and how I was at his age. Not only does he want to be a hero, he overthinks everything, he talks too much and his brain moves at a billion miles per hour (whether he likes it or not), but he loves with his whole heart. The amazing cover you’re seeing for the first time today is Nick in a nutshell: it’s bright and vibrant and hard to ignore. I can’t wait for you to meet Nicky and Seth and all their friends and the heroes that protect their fair city!”
Tor Teen will release The Extraordinaries on May 19, 2020, and you can pre-order it here. But you don’t have to wait to dive in; you can start reading an exclusive excerpt below.
FireStoned 16:36: SHADOW STAR IS STRAIGHT. HE LOVES REBECCA FIRESTONE. STOP MAKING HIM GAY, IT’S WEIRD. HE’S NOT GAY. NOT EVERYTHING NEEDS TO BE GAY ALL THE TIME. I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOU SLASH SHIPPERS. STOP MAKING THINGS GAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Nick Bell stared at his phone as he shifted on his bed in his room. “Not gay,” he muttered to himself. “He has sequins on his costume.” He thought about deleting the comment, but others were already responding to it, coming after FireStoned with a vengeance, so he decided to leave it up. Whoever FireStoned was, they’d learn fast that one absolutely did not comment on a ShadowStar744 fic like that. After all, Nick was one of the most popular writers in the Extraordinaries fandom (even if he’d had to use the screen name of ShadowStar744 since Shadowstar 1-743 were already taken, those bastards), and slash would always be more popular than the hetero nonsense FireStoned seemed to want. Straight people, Nick thought as he shook his head. He’d never understand them.
The other forty-two comments, though. They weren’t too shabby. Especially for a shorter chapter that ended on the thirty-second cliffhanger in a row. Thank god his fans understood. They were the only reason he’d continued writing what could be considered a quarter-of-a-million-word masturbatory ode to Shadow Star. Without them, the fic probably would have ended a long time ago, or worse, been one of those unfinished works that turned into a cautionary tale for new people in the fandom. He could deal with the occasional idiot like FireStoned.
Nick switched over to Tumblr and reblogged a few more things, thumb twitching over a rather risqué drawing of Shadow Star in an evocative pose that was both physically impossible and erotic, but decided against it. Ever since his dad had discovered what Tumblr was and that his son had accidentally posted a drawing that apparently no one under the age of eighteen should be looking at, he’d kept things clean. It was the only way that Dad had let him keep his Tumblr page at all, even after the powers that be decided showing something as inconsequential as nipples could be considered pornography. That, and his dad had demanded the password. Nick had nightmares of his father logging on himself and posting to all of Nick’s followers that he’d be grounded if anything remotely explicit showed up on his page again, just like he’d threatened to do.
Nick had been mortified.
Which, of course, was made worse when Dad frowned, and as if it were an afterthought, said, “Also, I feel like we need to discuss how it’s a naked man on your page, Nicky. Unless it’s just supposed to be artistic. I don’t get art.”
What Nick said next weren’t words, not really. They were a combination of sounds better suited to a nature documentary on the mating habits of elks in the Pacific Northwest. His brain had shorted out as he’d tried to come up with a logical explanation as to why he’d decided to reblog a picture of Shadow Star with a comically large bulge that made him look like he needed to seek medical attention immediately.
His father waited.
Finally, Nick said, “Yeah. So. Um.”
And Dad said, “Right. Have you had sex?”
“No, Dad, oh my god, why would you even—”
“Do you know what condoms are?”
“Yes, Dad, oh my god, I know what condoms are—”
“Good. That means you’ll use them if, and when, you decide to have sex. Which won’t be for a very long time.”
“Yes, Dad, oh my—I mean no, I’m not having sex, why would you even say that?”
“If it were with a girl, I’d be telling you the same thing. Wrap it, Nicky. Always wrap it before you stick it anywhere.” He tilted his head and squinted at his only son. “Or if it’s stuck in you. It don’t matter to me one way or another. What’s that called? Bottoming? I don’t care if you’re a bottom or the other one. Use protection.”
Nick had gone into a full-blown meltdown: synapses firing, eyes bulging, breath caught in his chest as he started to hyperventilate. His father had been there, of course, as he always was when Nick lost his mind a little bit. He sat next to Nick, wrapping an arm around his shoulders and waited until his son’s head started to clear.
They didn’t say much after that. Bell men weren’t the greatest when it came to feelings, but Aaron Bell had made it clear, perverts were everywhere, and that while some of the people Nick interacted with online might be nice, they might also be men in their late forties still living in their mothers’ basements, waiting to lure in an unsuspecting sixteen-year-old for nefarious deeds like making their victims into hand puppets or wearing their skin.
And while Nick didn’t think that would happen to him, he wasn’t sure. He was a cop’s kid. He knew the statistics, had grown up hearing stories of some of the terrible things Dad had seen on patrol. He didn’t want to end up as someone’s hand puppet, so he didn’t reblog porn anymore, no matter how tasteful it was.
(Which meant he’d also had to scrub his other Tumblr page which was considerably more adult, but the less said about that one, the better.)
And that was how he’d come out to his father at the age of fifteen.
Because of Extraordinary porn.
He’d been so young, then, so naïve. He was sixteen now. A man. And yes, perhaps he was a man who once bought a pillow off Etsy with Shadow Star’s face on it. He had tracked the delivery at the top of every hour, making sure that the moment it was on their doorstep, he was the one who got to the door first. It wasn’t that he was embarrassed by it (even if it was now hidden under his bed), it was just…there’d be a lot of questions, and Nick hadn’t been in the mood to answer said questions.
(It does need to be said that three days after receiving the pillow, he kissed it—even though he knew it wasn’t exactly normal.)
But Nick was still a man. He’d promised to make good decisions this new school year, a clean slate for both of them. New day, new dawn, blah, blah, blah.
He was shoving his feet into his beat-up Chucks when there was a knock at the door. That too had been part of their agreement. Nick would be trusted to have his door closed if he was responsible enough to do his own laundry so his father wouldn’t see any evidence that Nick had been…exploring himself. Nick loved his dad, but his singular talent for making Nick’s life excruciating was something that needed to be addressed.
“Breakfast,” Dad called through the door. “You better be getting ready, Nicky.”
Nick rolled his eyes. “I am.”
“Uh-huh. Stop your Tumblring and get your butt downstairs. French toast waits for no man.”
“Be right there. And it’s not Tumblring, you philistine. God, it’s like you don’t know anything at all.”
He heard his dad’s footsteps retreat down the hall toward the stairs. The floorboards squeaked, something they’d talked about fixing for years. But that was…well. That was Before. When things had been right as rain and everything had made sense. Sure, his dad had worked too much back then too, but she’d always been there to rein him in, telling him in no uncertain terms that he would be home for dinner at least three times a week, and they would eat as a family. She didn’t ask for much, she pointed out. But it was understood by all that she wasn’t asking.
Dad still worked too much.
Nick pushed himself off the bed. He turned his phone to vibrate (muttering about Tumblring under his breath) and crossed the room to his desk to slip it into his backpack.
She was there on his desk, as she always was, trapped in a photograph. She smiled at him, and it hurt, even now. Nick suspected it always would, at least a little bit. But it wasn’t the ragged, gaping hole it’d been two years ago, or even the constant ache of last year. Seth, Jazz, and Gibby didn’t walk on eggshells around him anymore like they thought he’d burst out crying at the slightest mention of moms.
Dad had taken the photo. It’d been on one of their summer trips out of the city. They’d gone to the coast of Maine to this little cottage by the sea. It’d been weirdly cold, and the beach had been rocks instead of sand, but it’d been…nice. Nick had moaned about being away from his friends, that there wasn’t even any Wi-Fi, and could his parents possibly be any more barbaric? His father laughed, and his mother patted his hand, telling him he’d survive.
He hadn’t been too sure about that.
But then, he’d been thirteen, and so of course he’d been overly dramatic. Puberty was a bitch, causing his voice to break along with a group of zits that had decided to nest against the side of his nose. He was gawky and awkward and had hair sprouting everywhere, so it was in his very nature to be overly dramatic.
Only later did Nick find out his father had taken the photo.
It’d been halfway through the trip, and they decided to find the local lighthouse that was supposed to be scenic, which was code for boring. It’d taken a couple of hours because it was in the middle of nowhere, and the paper map she insisted on was absolutely useless. But then they nearly drove past a sign half-hidden by a gnarled old tree, and she shouted, “There!” Brightly, full of excitement. Dad slammed on the brakes, and Nick laughed for the first time since he’d set foot in the state of Maine. She looked back at him, a wild grin on her face, her light hair hanging down around her face, and she winked at him while his father grumbled and reversed the car slowly.
They found the lighthouse shortly after.
It was smaller than Nick expected, but there was something exhilarating about the way Jenny Bell threw open the car door as soon as they stopped in the empty parking lot, waves crashing in the background. She left the door open, saying, “See? I knew we’d find it. I knew it was here.”
The Bell men followed her. Always.
The frame of the photograph was oak and heavy. He took it from his mom’s nightstand without a second thought. His father hadn’t said a word when he’d seen it on Nick’s desk the first time. It was something they didn’t talk about.
One of the somethings.
She smiled at him every day. She must have seen Dad with the camera, because she was looking right at it, her head on her son’s shoulder. Nick’s head turned toward the sky, his eyes closed.
They looked too much alike. Pale and green-eyed and blond with eyebrows that had minds of their own. There was no doubt where he’d come from. Dad was big, bigger than Nick would ever be, tan skin and dark hair and muscles on top of muscles, though they were softer than they used to be. Nick was skinny and all gangly limbs, uncoordinated on his best day, and downright dangerous on his worst. He’d taken after her, though she’d made being a klutz endearing, whereas he was more likely to break a table or a bone. She’d told him she’d met his dad by literally falling on top of him in the library. She’d been on a ladder, trying to get to the top shelf, and he happened to pass right on by the moment she slipped. He’d caught her, Dad would say, and she’d say, sure, right, except you didn’t because I landed on you and we both fell, and then they’d laugh and laugh.
He looked like her.
He acted like her.
He didn’t know how Dad could stand to look at him some days.
“I’m going to do better,” he told her quietly, not wanting his father to hear. The fact that he spoke to his mom’s photo would probably get him back to the psychiatrist and on even more pills, something Nick was desperate to avoid. “New Nick. You’ll see. Promise.”
He pressed his fingers against his lips, and then to the photo.
She kept on smiling.
Used with Permission from Tor Teen, an imprint of Tom Doherty Associates. Copyright© 2020 TJ Klune.