We loved Sarah Kuhn’s “geek romcom” novel One Con Glory—so we’ve been waiting for years to see what she does next. So we’re stoked to bring you an exclusive look at Heroine Complex, her book about Asian-American superheroes, which comes out July 5.
In Heroine Complex, Evie Tanaka is stuck being the personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, who’s San Francisco’s most beloved superhero—and Evie’s childhood best friend. Too bad Aveda has grown up to be kind of a diva. Evie has everything under control, until she’s forced to impersonate her boss and former friend for one night, and then discovers that she, too, has superpowers. Cue superheroic karaoke battles, deadly cupcakes, and a demon invasion that could just destroy the whole city.
So here’s what Kuhn wants you to know about the cover, which we’re revealing for the first time, as well as the book in general:
I’m so grateful to my fantastic editor Betsy Wollheim, artist Jason Chan, G-Force Design, and everyone at DAW for this cover, which has so many things I love: bright candy colors, badass superheroine action moves, and adorable cupcakes that happen to be vicious flesh-eating demons.
But what I love most is how perfectly Jason captured the appearances and personalities of the two main characters, Evie Tanaka and Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang)—down to the smallest details, like Aveda’s fabulous power ponytail and Evie’s cute ducky tee/hoodie combo. It was really emotional for me to see them like this: two very different Asian American women battling evil side by side. That’s an image I’ve craved and sought out since childhood.
These two have a complicated friendship that stretches back to their most formative years, when they bonded over being the only two Asian American students in their kindergarten class (Evie is Hapa—half-Japanese like me—and Aveda is Chinese American).
This excerpt digs into their history a bit. I really wanted to show how deep, complex, and even thorny longstanding friendships between women can be as they grow up together and bond over shared experiences and ultimately end up fighting the good fight against demonic cupcakes. Like you do.
And here’s that cover in full, featuring art by the brilliant Jason Chan:
And here’s a never-before-seen excerpt from the book:
I hate crying. To me, it is a useless action, a sign of weakness, and a total waste of time. Think about it: in those moments you spend allowing salty rivers of angst to stream down your cheeks, you could be fixing whatever caused your tears in the first place.
I first came to this conclusion the summer Aveda and I turned eleven. Neither of us was interested in boys yet, and we were content to spend entire afternoons on dorky activities like making up our own theme songs using the battered Casio keyboard we scored at Goodwill.
It was also the summer we discovered The Heroic Trio.
Let me back up a little.
While Aveda appointing herself my playground protector was great for me, it wasn’t always so good for her. Mouthing off to bullies got her in trouble with teachers. That, in turn, got her in trouble with her parents, who had very specific ideas about what a good firstborn Chinese American daughter should be: demure, studious, and on the doctor track by age five. Aveda had a temper. Aveda had a theatrical streak. Aveda insisted on shouting down bitchy little Kelly Graham when she made fun of our “weird eyes” after we kicked her ass in dodgeball during second grade recess. (I was prepared to slink off once the teasing started up. Aveda told Kelly her “whole face” was weird, so she should probably shut up about other people’s eyes.)
I loved her for all of this. And while she basked in my admiration and reveled in protecting me, she desperately wanted adoration from her parents as well.
She couldn’t control her outspokenness and even though she gave it her all, she could only manage Bs in math and science. That kept her off the doctor train, so she was always searching for something else she could be The Absolute Best at. Something that would impress her parents and force them to finally accept her as their perfect daughter.
She put together impeccable outfits, color coordinating her socks with her ponytail holders.
She trained until she was the only kid in our class who could do three whole pull-ups.
She ran for class president every year—and usually won.
I cheered her on through all of it, my outfits and attitude never nearly as fabulous. I couldn’t even do one pull-up. But I was always there. That was how I defined myself: by being reliable and loyal and present. I patted her on the back, iced her injuries, and picked the occasional bit of lint off her stylish sweaters.
None of Aveda’s feats were quite enough to win the approval of the elder Changs, who regarded these non-demure, non-doctorly accomplishments with a stern “Mmm” and a suggestion that she request extra credit homework in math.
It wasn’t until that summer—the summer of The Heroic Trio—that she finally found a purpose. And in a way, so did I.
We’d been allowed to trek into San Francisco that day and were dragging our preteen limbs through muggy July, our hands sticky with melted ice cream. Aveda spotted a poster displayed outside the Yamato Theater—a grotty establishment that mostly showed old Hong Kong action movies. The poster featured three Asian women striking badass poses.
“Evie, look,” Aveda breathed, smashing her nose against the display case. “Asian lady superheroes.” She ran her sticky fingers over the title. “The Heroic Trio.”
“Cool,” I said, my voice thin and weary. We’d had a long day of running around in the sun and I could feel myself sugar crashing from the chocolate double-scoops we’d just crammed into our gaping maws. “Annie, it’s getting dark. We should head home.”
She whirled around and planted her hands on her hips. “We need to see this now.”
Even then she was bossy.
I didn’t get home until after dark and was grounded for a week, but the movie was worth it. As we watched those three Asian lady superheroes kick and punch and badass their way across the screen, Aveda’s sweaty hand crept over the armrest and clutched mine, her grip tightening until I thought she might break my fingers off. But I didn’t mind. My own heart felt too big for my body, beating against my breastbone so hard that I was sure it was mere seconds away from bursting clean out of my chest. We knew we were witnessing something big enough to knock our world off its axis: superheroes who looked like us.
Most eleven-year-olds would’ve taken that as “awesome, there’s finally a character I can play while everyone else is Spider-Man and Wonder Woman.” Aveda took it as, “I can be that. And I’m going to.” Finally she found a goal to channel all of her considerable energy into, something that combined everything she was good at: charisma and fashion and athletics and protecting the downtrodden.
Even though she didn’t get her power until years later, her life mapped itself out from that point, sitting in a dust-mite-infested theater and crushing my hand. From then on we were “The Heroic Trio . . . except there’s only two of us.”
While Aveda connected with the kicking ass/taking names/wearing awesome leather bodysuits with matching accessories parts of the movie, I was all about a more intimate bit involving Invisible Girl, the member of the Trio played by Michelle Yeoh, who we later witnessed being amazing in Supercop and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and tons of other Yamato favorites. In the scene I replayed in my head, Invisible Girl held her cute, bespectacled love interest as he died. A single, beatific tear slid down her cheek . . . and then just like that, she was back to the business of saving the world. One tear was all she needed.
To me, that was more badass than a perfectly executed roundhouse kick—or the stylish boot doing the kicking. Because as happy as I was to have someone like Aveda as a protector, I was still a bona fide wuss. I cowered behind her like nobody’s business. I started sniffling whenever bullies so much as looked at us. I cried at the drop of a hat, and it was never that winsome-eyed situation that makes kids look so adorable. No, when I cried, it was an ugly, scrunched-up, snotty red face type of deal. I wanted to be brave like Aveda, but when the chips were down, I could never keep it together. Not even a little bit. I still retained the memory of that deep humiliation welling up inside of me when those kids started in with the “human meat” chant.
So while Aveda decided in that moment to be a superhero, I decided I would never cry again. That was how I could be brave. That was how I could fight back. Of course, Aveda and I had an ongoing argument about which of us was actually Michelle Yeoh, since she was clearly the coolest.
I usually let Aveda win.
But in my heart of hearts, I knew it was me.
Heroine Complex is out July 5 from DAW Books.