Phenomenal Girl 5
by AJ Menden, fantasy (2008)
Shomi, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-505-52786-8


My inner geek is showing here, but I'm all for superhero romances. Therefore, when I realize what AJ Menden's Phenomenal Girl 5 is all about, I have some good feelings about it. The cover is amazing and it lures me in with promises of kick-ass heroes and heroines. I am really looking forward to a great time. Alas, it turns out that Phenomenal Girl 5 and me have incompatibility issues.

Lainey Livingston has the ability to fly and the strength of... er, Superman. As Phenomenal Girl 5, she has been doing her thing in a local superhero team, but she has her eyes set on becoming a member of the Elite Hands of Justice, the world's premiere cadre of superheroes. When the story opens, she is given a temporary membership, and she will only be an official member if she can succeed in her apprenticeship under the mysterious Reincarnist.

The man currently known as Robert Elliot has been alive since the founding of the United States. He dabbles in magic, and perhaps as a result of his dabbling, he finds himself reincarnated as a 20-year old time every time he dies. Each time this happens, he loses chunks of his memories of his past life. As you can imagine, he becomes more reclusive as the years go by, letting his membership with the EHJ lapse into part-time status. With Lainey, he will take on what seems like a simple case of his old enemy running wild. Of course, there is always more to meets the eye when it comes to a plot like this.

Story-wise, I have no problems with Phenomenal Girl 5. In case you are wondering, Ms Menden's story is actually quite serious. She's not poking fun of the comic book genre or emulating the campy over the top feel of those stories - the story here is quite sober. There is some angst, some character development, and some romantic drama. I don't have any issues with all this.

My problem here is with the characterization of Lainey. She is inconsistent. She starts out a wide-eyed slack-jawed idiot who gets overpowered on her first assignment with Robert (after showing an inability to follow his orders). She constantly asks questions even about obvious things, complains about having to wake up early, and generally behaves like an irritating dingbat - the less intelligent sibling of the Wonder Twins, perhaps - and yet she's supposed to be good enough to stand out from her peers to qualify for a probationary membership in the EHJ. Lainey becomes more capable as the story progresses, but she doesn't seem to care that the world may be coming to an end. Instead, she's more preoccupied with her relationship with the Reincarnist. Ultimately, it is hard to care about the fate of the world when the heroine is more preoccupied with behaving like a high school girl obsessing over her first boyfriend.

Phenomenal Girl 5 has possibilities and potential, but I don't cotton up to heroines like Lainey, I'm afraid. I'd still be interested to see what Ms Menden has to offer, since superheroes in the world need love too, as that song by Five For Fighting can testify. But by not living up to its title, Phenomenal Girl 5 rates a mere "okay" to me, I'm afraid.

Rating: 71


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