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Read an Excerpt From YA Anthology ‘Generation Wonder: The New Age of Heroes’

Generation Wonder: The New Age of Heroes is a high-flying YA anthology featuring 13 short stories that turn superhero tropes on their head and offer fresh perspectives on modern myths.

Triumph. Tragedy. The empyreal. The infernal. Even the mundane, filtered through the fantastical. Superheroes are, appropriately enough, a sort of super-genre, encompassing all other story types.

This YA anthology features 13 short stories that creatively turn superhero tropes on their head, while still paying homage to the genre that has found fans for more than eight decades. And there will be no mistake—superheroes don’t have to just be generic handsome white dudes. Everyone in the world, no matter their race, sexual preference, pronouns, or level of ability, has dreamed of flying.

Contributors include six New York Times bestselling authors, seven multiple award winners, a founder of We Need Diverse Books, and at least one author with millions of books in print in the U.S. alone. The collection is edited by New York Times bestselling author Barry Lyga, and it also features illustrations from Colleen Doran—New York Times bestselling cartoonist, and artist of the legendary Stan Lee’s memoir. The full list of contributors includes: Barry Lyga, Paul Levitz, Sarah MacLean, Lamar Giles, Elizabeth Eulberg, Danielle Paige, Varian Johnson, Joseph Bruchac, Morgan Baden, Matthew Phillion, Anna-Marie McLemore, Sterling Gates, and Axie Oh.

Editor Barry Lyga has written a metric ton of books for seven different publishers in fifteen years. He’s an award winner, a New York Times bestseller, a “YA rebel author” (thanks, Kirkus!), and a guy whose entire life has been spent reading, writing, studying, selling, buying, and otherwise involved in superheroes. Seriously, it’s a sickness, people. He can name every member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, their birth names, and their planets of origin. (Yes, he was very popular in high school.) Find him online at barrylyga.com.

We’re proud to share an excerpt from the book, Queeros and Villains by Anna-Marie McLemore (they/them) is a queer, Latine, nonbinary author who grew up hearing La Llorona in the Santa Ana winds. Their work has won the Otherwise Award, a Stonewall Honor, and two Northern California Book Awards. Their books include The Weight of Feathers, a 2016 William C. Morris YA Debut Award Finalist; When the Moon Was Ours, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature; Wild Beauty, a Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Booklist best book of 2017; Blanca & Roja, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and one of Time Magazine’s 100 Best Fantasy Novels of All Time; Dark and Deepest Red, a Winter 2020 Indie Next List title; Junior Library Guild Selection The Mirror Season; Lakelore; and Self-Made Boys: A Great Gatsby Remix.

 

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QUEEROES AND VILLAINS BY ANNA-MARIE MCLEMORE

WHEN I GET OUT OF THE SHOWER, IT’S WAITING for me.

Sitting next to a glass of water is the same kind of orange plastic bottle that might hold aproxen or antibiotics. Except I know this one didn’t come from the CVS, because what’s in this bottle doesn’t officially exist. So the standard prescription container seems like a sad attempt at pretending this is all normal.

I lift the bottle off my dresser. The pills are somewhere between lavender and purple, which seems in poor taste.

And the pills are huge, worse than the ones I had to take for my sinus infection.

But what did I expect? That medication designed to make me not be una lesbiana was gonna come in tiny easy-to- swallow tablets?

On the way to my bed, I dodge the dozens of mobile strings hanging from my ceiling. One end of each string is masking-taped above me. The other holds a paper heart, or a sparkly D20 (the theater tech director at school helped me drill little holes), or the kind of plastic star-shaped weight they put at the ends of balloons.

Your room is one big modern art exhibit, Papá always says with a roll of his eyes, though I can see the pride in his smile. He likes that I’m weird.

He just doesn’t like that I’m the kind of weird that makes me look more at Prudencia Reyes than her brother.

I sit on my bed, wet hair dampening the shoulders of my shirt, pills rattling as I pass the bottle back and forth between my hands. My stuffed animals bob in response to the shifting mattress (yeah, I’m sixteen and keep stuffed animals on my bed, so what?).

I’m lucky. I know that. When my parents found my love letters to Pru Reyes, they didn’t yell at me or tell me I was going to hell. They didn’t even ask me why I hadn’t told them or demand answers about me, about Pru, about any of it.

They just looked at me with overwhelming pity. Which was almost as humiliating as the sweet, sympathetic smile Pru gave me right before telling me she thinks I’m great, just not like that.

Mamá knocks on my door. I can tell her particular knock from Papá’s.

“Come in,” I say, almost hiding the pill bottle before remembering it’s my parents who got it for me.

Mamá holds a ceramic mug in her hands. The smell of cinnamon and masa drifts from the cup.

“I thought it might be nice to take your first dose with something besides water,” she says.

My mother almost never makes champurrado on weekdays. She likes to let the pot simmer for hours. Our family’s secret recipe is always better with an afternoon on the stove.

I can still see the sadness in Mamá’s face from when she and Papá found out about me, the worry that drove them to ask their friends and friends of friends until they found someone who knew someone who knew someone who could get me into a clinical trial. They think I’m gonna end up like Tía Adelida, whose abuela won’t even speak to her and who lives thousands of miles away with the woman our family won’t acknowledge as her wife.

Tía Adelida always seems happy when we visit her. But I know my great-grandmother’s refusal to return her calls has left a little of her heart broken.

Ending up with a heart that’s only a little bit broken, my parents say, is the luckiest it gets in this world for someone like Tía Adelida.

For someone like me.

My parents have pretty definite ideas about what kind of life a queer brown girl can have, and what kind of life she can never have.

My mother leaves the champurrado on the table next to my bed. But then she pauses, hand on the doorknob.

“What you are,” she says, a wince creasing her perfect eyeliner,“it’s not wrong. There’s nothing wrong with it. You know that, right?”

I nod. Reflex.

“It’s the world that’s wrong,” she says. “And maybe it’s going to be better for your children or your nietos. I hope it is, but it’s not better yet.”

I keep nodding, a way to hide the prickling along my eyelashes.

“We just want you to live a happy life in the world now,” she says.

I have good parents.

I just wish they’d asked me, even once, if I want this. But so fast, we were all swept up in phone calls, and appointments in unmarked buildings, and interviews about how long I’d had homosexual inclinations (not even kidding, I wish I were making this up), and pages and pages of paperwork. Oh, the sheer volume of paperwork. Forms and questionnaires and surveys and waivers and medical record summaries and confidentiality agreements. If it turns out that I failed my finals, it’s going to be because nothing else could fit in my brain after all that paperwork.

But because they didn’t ask me what I want, I don’t ask myself.

I take the first pill, the purple dye and the coating bitter on my tongue as it goes down.

Nausea. Chills. Fever. All reasons my parents wanted me to take the course of pills over winter break.

The men in expensive-looking suits and ties that matched the colors of their company’s logo went over the possible side effects with us. But they glossed over the fine-print list and said I might, maybe, have some loss of appetite. Vomiting. Possible sensitivity to sunlight, but that was in a truly insignificant percentage of subjects, barely worth mentioning.

Papá read the whole list, though. So thanks to him, I know that anything from a high fever to temporarily blurred vision is possible. He made sure the warnings printed in nine-point font did not include cardiac arrest or kidney failure or anything else that the men in nice suits wanted to go over too fast for us to catch. He actually made them wait while he and my mother read every word. And even though their throat-clearing impatience made me shift in my chair, I loved my father for that.

A few days in and half my doses later, I wake up in the middle of the night with my back soaked in sweat. I catalog everything I’m feeling. Fever: normal. Chills: normal. Trouble sleeping: normal. All listed in the common side effects.

It happens again the next night. I blink into the dark, my pulse hard in my neck and my damp hair sticking to my forehead.

As my vision clears, the air in front of me wobbles.

The silhouettes of everything dangling from the ceiling—the paper hearts, the tiny vials I filled with dyed sand, the tissue paper flowers—sway. They look like a draft from an open window is pushing them, even though the December weather means my window’s been shut and locked for weeks.

Fever dreams, not just fevers. They should add that to the list of symptoms. And it’s worse the next night, when, in addition to swinging back and forth, each piece of my room-sized mobile glows, haloed in light the same purple as the pills in the bottle.

I stumble out of my room, stomach feeling fragile and unsteady.

“You OK, mija?” my dad asks. I realize it’s already afternoon by the way the sun’s coming in the kitchen window and how Papá is taking off his work shoes instead of putting them on. “You’re looking a little green.”

I nod, hand to the back of my neck to check if it’s still damp.

My mom’s purse isn’t on the hook in the front hall. Her shifts start and end later than my dad’s. I check the clock on the oven. In a little while, she’ll come through the door with her makeup touched up and her hair neatened, something the men at her job think is for them but is always for Papá. She likes batting freshly mascaraed eyelashes at him when she comes home.

“Want water?” I ask.

Papá gives me a look. “Only if you’re having some. You look like you need it.”

I round the corner into the kitchen. “Thanks a lot.”

I don’t reach for glasses yet. I’m just thinking about them. But then purple light flashes along the handle of the cupboard, and it eases open.

My head snaps back toward the living room. My dad’s distracted, turning on the TV.

I look back to the cupboard, and two glasses float toward me. The clear and red pebbled plastic glows bright and cool with lavender light.

I catch another violet glow out of the corner of my eye.

A constellation of ice cubes drifts across the kitchen, each one lit up purple from inside, like the northern lights through icicles.

When did the freezer even open, and why didn’t I hear the cracking of the ice tray?

I rush to shut the cabinet door and the freezer. I grab the floating cups and use them to scoop the ice out of the air just before Papá turns back toward me.

As soon as I touch everything, the purple glow fades.

I stand in the middle of the kitchen, still on the linoleum, holding two plastic cups of ice.

My dad studies me. “Estás bien?”

I nod and fill the cups from the tap.

Side effects may include:

Not knowing qué demonios is going on.

This side effect continues when I find a tumbled purple gemstone— an amethyst, maybe?— on my windowsill. It catches the last of the light in its swirling purple center.

I open the window and grab it. I put it in a tiny glass jar and hang it from my ceiling, both because it’s pretty and because it seems like the safe thing to do. Keep an eye on it. Especially if, somehow, I made it appear.

Fever dreams. Nightmares. Add them to the list of side effects, right alongside floating objects and purple light.

I try to surface from the twisting, whirling dreams that make my brain feel like it’s folding in on itself. And I don’t know whether I wake up screaming or if I start screaming when I see the storm of glowing violet brightening the darkness.

The pieces of my room-sized mobile are breaking free of their strings. The star-and sun-and rainbow- shaped balloon weights are flying around in streaks of lavender light. The paper hearts spin like leaves, throwing lilac rays across my bed. The D20s tumble across the dark, each facet of the dice winking brilliant purple. The glass bottle with the amethyst spins through the air, bright as if it were full of liquid light. Even my stuffed animals join the party, dancing toward the ceiling.

The door of my room opens. I sit up in bed.

My parents’ eyes follow the shapes whirlpooling through the room. Their faces show horror and incomprehension, like they’re a little confused this wasn’t listed in the paperwork.

Mamá blinks a few times before snapping back into herself.

“We won’t tell anyone,” she says, eyes tracking an orange tissue paper flower that’s lighting up purple at the edges.

“We’ll make sure no one finds out.”

The words inside me open my mouth. “Like you want to make sure no one finds out about me? Who I really am?”

Papá stares at me.

The orange flower crashes into the window, and now Mamá stares.

I grip my comforter. “What else would you change about me?”

“What are you talking about?” Papá asks.

I bunch the comforter against my stomach and chest, backing toward the side of my bed that’s

against the wall. “What else would you change about me to make my life easier?”

I don’t know if their eyes are widening because of what I’m saying or because everything is spinning through the air even faster, the purple glowing brighter.

“Would you make me not even look like you?” I ask, the words bitter on my tongue. “Make sure I never sound like you?”

Everything spins fast as winter wind. Both the air and the light feel like they’re rushing inside my head now.

“What about me is worth keeping?” I ask.

Half the apartment building probably thinks I’m the worst kind of daughter, yelling at her parents— I have never yelled at any of my relatives before, because I value my life—but right now, I don’t care.

“If you could change everything about me,” I say, “would you keep anything?”

Mamá and Papá say my name at the same time. That chorus has the weight of truth behind it—

They love that I am brown like them, that I can never strip my handed-down accent out of certain words.

And that they also know the world may never love the things about me that they love.

I will never forgive them for doing this to me.

I will never stop being grateful for why they wanted to.

The spinning gets stronger, and violet brighter, until my brain can’t hold it all. It’s too fast. The frequency is too high, too strong.

Everything falls in the same moment that the world turns the deepest purple, and the depth of it pulls me under.

When I wake up, it’s quiet and still dark. The dice and paper cutouts are on the floor.

When I see a wink of purple, I flinch. But I scramble toward it, blinking.

Another amethyst, resting on the outside of my windowsill.

I lift the pane just enough for my hand to get through, and cold air sweeps in. When I move forward to reach for the stone, I see another fleck of purple, and another.

A trail of these little stones crosses the apartment building courtyard.

My parents are asleep deeply enough that I can hear their breathing as I creep down the hall. Even though guilt pricks at me—I know I’m the reason they’re so exhausted—it doesn’t stop me from sneaking out the front door and down into the courtyard.

I follow the trail of little violet stones out of the apartment complex. Then there’s one every few squares of sidewalk.

I follow them down the street, past our church and my mother’s work. I nod at Mr. Contreras, opening the taqueria for early-morning prep. I pretend I’m bending down to tie the Converse I threw on so he won’t see what I’m picking up.

The purple stones lead me onto a street that’s mostly old houses but also has a couple of boarded‑up businesses. The houses all look occupied, a few windows lit, but the storefronts don’t look open. Which is part of why I hesitate where the last stone is, in front of a door that could have been painted red orange or could just be that color from rust. I can see the outline of where a sign used to be, but there’s no clue left about what is, or was, inside.

I also hesitate because the seams of the door are glowing purple.

Before I know I’m thinking about reaching for the door, the handle is lighting up violet, and it’s opening.

I stay on the threshold, staring into the belly of what must have once been a bar. The floor is swept clean, and it only smells a little of dust and cobwebs and old cardboard boxes. The remaining stools are worn at the edges, the wooden bar scratched pale.

The first two people I see are two blonds who look like twins. The reason I see them first is because they’re flashing, in unison, between being about six inches tall and ten feet tall. Not everyone here is a gringo, though. A lot of them have brown skin like me, like Mamá and Papá, like Tía Adelida. And purple light follows all of them.

One guy sticks his head and arms into an aquarium that’s filled with water but has no fish, and his mouth and nose light up purple like he’s breathing underwater. He grins through the glass, and two friends cheer him on.

A girl flies through the air, dodging the old lightning fixtures, a comet blur of purple behind her. Underneath her, another girl blurs into a translucent lavender version of herself, barely visible.

Someone else turns into a giant lavender dragonfly. Another person appears at one corner of the bar, disappears in a puff of purple smoke, and then reappears clear on the other side.

And then does it again, reappearing in front of me.

“Welcome,” they say. I can’t tell if there are still threads of purple smoke around them or if pieces of their hair are dyed purple.

They hand me a sweatshirt the same violet as the pills I’ve been taking, something between a zip‑up hoodie and the kind of jacket all the X-Men wear in one of the movies. Everyone in this room is wearing one. Some have jabbed safety pins through the sleeves or enamel pins into the collars. Two people who seem like a couple have identical glitter-painted unicorns on the backs of theirs. Others have even artistically slashed at the fabric or bleached clusters of pink spots.

Even with the alterations, the sweatshirts look like what I’m slowly realizing they are:

A uniform.

“Suit up,” the flying girl calls down to me.

I look at the sweatshirt, my stomach wavy with the memory of swallowing those pills.

“Who are all of you?” I ask.

The guy breathing underwater pulls his head out of the aquarium. “We’re superqueeroes,” he says with the grandeur of an announcer from an old-timey TV show.

“That’s not gonna catch on, dude.” One of his friends shakes his head, purple sparks coming off the tips of his hair. “Give it up.”

“I still have faith.” The aquarium guy shakes his own head, sending out a spray of water.

“Suffice it to say”—the flying girl lands and sits on the edge of the bar— “the clinical trial is not working as they hoped. We’re all as queer, trans, and nonbinary as we started out.”

The purple dragonfly lands and turns back to human form.

“Plus a few unanticipated side effects.”

“What does she do?” asks one twin, currently almost as tall as the ceiling and looking down at me.

The teleporter, the one who handed me the sweatshirt, leans their head back. “Didn’t we just talk about not assuming pronouns?”

“Sorry.”

“I’m she/her,” I say.

The teleporter nods. “They/them.”

As soon as I even think about showing them what I can do, before I can decide not to, an old empty bottle that used to hold some fancy liqueur flies off a shelf. It kicks off dust, every mote lighting up bright violet along with the bottle glass.

It comes toward me fast. I catch it before it can slam into the opposite wall.

“Yessss,” the aquarium guy and his friends say, stretching out the word with approval. Their eyes glow purple in a way that matches their delighted smiles.

The teleporter nods. “Nice.”

I look around at the peeling wallpaper, the neon sign that would probably short-circuit if you tried to plug it in, the disintegrating advertising posters behind the bar.

My brain tries to catch up. The shades of lavender and purple. The possibility that all of this—

The breathing underwater, the teleporting, the flying—came from each of us being given pills to make us something other than what we are.

“How did you all find each other?” I ask. “How did you find me?

“Don’t worry.” The translucent violet girl turns into herself again, solid, visible. “We’ll catch you up.”

Remembering my mother’s words stops me.

It’s the world that’s wrong. And maybe it’s going to be better for your children or your nietos. I hope it is, but it’s not better yet.

I understand that place my parents live in, wanting something better for all of us but not wanting to dream it too hard, not letting themselves want it too much so they don’t break their own hearts.

If I hope for that world where it’s better for all of us, I could break my own heart.

But I also know that we’ll never get it unless we go after it. That world they want for me, where I can be who I am, will never exist unless we make it.

“So, what do you say?” the second twin, currently about a foot tall and standing on top of a barstool, asks.

The teleporter nods at my hands, one holding the bottle that just flew through the air, the other holding the sweatshirt I am considering putting on. “You in?”

Generation Wonder: The New Age of Heroes is Available Now

 

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