Book Review – All My Friends are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman

books, reviews

Rating: 5 out of 5.

One of the positive side effects of taking part in my friend’s virtual book club is that I find out about loads of great books. Of course, most of the time we don’t end up reading the ones that I’m really interested in, so I have take it upon myself to read them. This book was my pick or February’s Valentine theme and it was one that I knew I had to buy for myself. It just sounded like such a different take on a love story. Although, I did have some fears about it. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel about super heroes that I’ve enjoyed. The superhero genre is such a visual one that I think it’s really hard to translate that in words. Could you imagine trying to write a novelisation of some of the most popular graphic novels? It’d be so difficult. As this book didn’t sound quite as bothered about the superhero element, I figured that it might be a bit safer.

The premise of the book is a pretty simple one. Tom is a non-superhero in a world of superheroes. Despite having no special abilities, all of Tom’s friends are heroes. He’s even married to one known as The Perfectionist. Although, right now, his wife doesn’t know he exists. On their wedding day, she fell under the spell of her jealous ex-boyfriend Hypno and, as a result, Tom is literally invisible to her. Six months after their wedding, The Perfectionist is convinced that Tom has abandoned her and decides it’s time to move on. So, she jumps on a plane and plans to start a new life in Vancouver. Unbeknownst to her, Tom is beside her every step of the way. After all, he only has the duration of this plane ride to convince her that he’s there. Otherwise, she’ll forget him forever. Will he be able to win her back?

On the surface, this doesn’t sound like an amusing story, but this is an incredibly enjoyable book. It’s a very original idea and plays out wonderfully. Tom’s plane journey is interspersed with his memories of the relationship as well as short bios for some of his superhero friends. Through these little snippets, we get a much clearer idea of the universe in which these characters exist. The superheroes of this story aren’t traditional superheroes. They don’t have super strength or the ability to fly. There’s no Superman or Wonder Woman within these pages. Instead, we meet people like the Ear, the Spooner and the Impossible Man. These are heroes who don’t have secret identities and who don’t wear costumes. Meeting the cast of characters is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the book and it gave a real insight into Kaufman’s unique creativity.

Far from being a science fiction book, this is a story about perception and self-awareness. Kaufman uses traditional comic book tropes to question what it takes to be a real superhero. This isn’t a story about spectacular beings but about humans. Tom can see great things in all of his friends but not himself. This is a book that showcases in absurd proportions the idea that people find it difficult to see their good points. How difficult it is to see the traits that make you special. Or of the way that you can turn people’s faults into strengths. Tom’s love for The Perfectionist takes her need to make everything perfect and make it special. It is what makes him fall in love with her. All My Friends are Superheroes is a sweet but heartbreaking tale of what it is to live in a world full of other people. You will continually feel that you pale in comparison.

It is also a very interesting analysis of love. The story had the potential to be really cheesy and over-the-top but Kaufman manages to keep it under control. There is enough humour and self-awareness here that it doesn’t become saccharine. Kaufman does a pretty decent job of recreating the feelings you experience when you’re dating. We see Tom go through different stages of his romantic history and, despite the slightly unique setting, there is so much familiarity here. It’s a unique and very inventive way to play out a love story but this one works on every level. It was an absolute delight to read and has a strong understanding of how much to give.

I do admit, this won’t be a popular read with everyone. If you’re a reader who favours plot and action then you’ll find it lacking. The narrative is rather thin. Rather than being one continuous story, the book is broken down into shorter vignettes that relate to the couple in some way. We get glimpses into their personal histories and learn more about their friends. I really enjoyed the structure and think it added some great context to the main plot. The book introduces us to a colourful cast of superheroes and gives short little biographies indicating their power and something about their story. These are short and you don’t really get to know much about the other characters or the world they inhabit. However, there is a lot of fun details that are inspired by comic book tropes. I would definitely have read an entire book made up of these.

I guess, Kaufman’s book is a love story for people who are normally put off by love stories. It has plenty of the romantic side of things but it is written with such a delicate and comic touch, that it doesn’t feel much like a romance. It also has a lot to say about humanity and modern society. There are so many layers to this book. You could easily enjoy multiple readthroughs and come out feeling different each time. It’s one of those books that has immediately been added to my favourites and will be one of my top recommendations for any reader. I utterly adored it and am already planning on reading as many of Kaufman’s other books as I possibly can.

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