Recommended for ages 12+
After releasing two YA/new adult romances centering on the X-Men’s Rogue and She-Hulk in 2013, Disney/Marvel upped the ante by tapping YA phenom Margaret Stohl (writer of the Icons series, and co-writer of the Beautiful Creatures series with Kami Garcia) to give readers a story about Black Widow: S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, assassin extraordinaire, and Avenger.
The main story centers on a teen, Ava Orlova, rescued from the infamous Red Room that created Black Widow. Left to languish in a S.H.I.E.L.D. safehouse for years, she escaped and lived on her own in New York until she met Alex Manor – a boy who had been showing up in her dreams – at a fencing competition in New Jersey. When Agent Romanov – the Black Widow – appears on the scene with the news that Ava’s being hunted by her brutal Red Room instructor, Ivan Somodoroff, who has plans for her – and Black Widow, too. As the three go on the run, we learn that Ava and Alex have more to them than meets the eye; we also peel back some of the mystery wrapped around one of the most mysterious of Avengers.
I loved this book. I love Margaret Stohl’s writing style, and she nails Black Widow’s cool, detached exterior, matched with a deep well of memories and emotions inside. We’ve got a similar character in Ava, who’s learning to control her emotions and frustrations, channeling her past into creating a persona of her own. Poor Alex, who’s been dragged along for the ride, finds himself getting answers to questions he’s never known to ask. Both Ava and Black Widow have wonderfully sarcastic tones in their words and even their actions, and Ms. Stohl manages to subtly shift the tone from an agitated adolescent to a battle-tested Avenger with ease. The debriefing sessions between the Department of Defense and the Black Widow break up heavier scenes in the story and move the pacing and narrative along. We also get some cameo appearances from other figures in the Avengers series that provide familiarity and some humor, and they made my Marvel fangirl heart beat that much faster.
I’m thrilled that Natasha Romanov gets to star in her own novel: the “Where’s Natasha” online movement showed merchandisers that women and girls DO read comics and consume pop culture, and we WANT our female superheroes on t-shirts, notebooks, action figures, and perhaps most importantly, in our stories. I would love to read a story about Natasha’s Red Room experiences, or even her assassin days, before S.H.I.E.L.D. Hey, Marvel, I know a really good author with a great YA track record… oh, and so do you.