To Stand in the Light: superheroes fighting crime while dealing with mental illness

“Antimatter pigeons are trying to hold the Empire State Building hostage. Rosita needs backup!”

Imagine a friendship turned romance between young superheroes, one of whom has power over light, while the other commands shadows and darkness.

Imagine the miles-deep yet frightened connection between two people horribly hurt by rejection, one by her white parents when the Korean baby they’d adopted wouldn’t become the musical prodigy they wanted and then denied her ADD treatment, the other from the gawking tourists who paid money to see a caged-up child at the circus.

To Stand in the Light by Kayla Bashe will introduce you to Shadow, a scarred, half-demon nearly seven feet tall, and Bean, an enthusiastic waif who loves glitter and bright colors. Both of them are absolutely terrified that they’re a burden on the other, and a lot of us can relate to that. “Thinking about those bad times, when she felt like apologizing to the fluorescent lights for having to shine down on her[…]”

That’s not Bashe’s only evocative phrase: Bean’s stomach began to feel like a cheap blender trying to grind up knives • “I’d swallow a cactus if it would mean I could get my GED already.” • She fell in awe of New York the way one would adore the stars, if stars could be petted and tenderly kissed. • “Let’s be messed up together, instead of arguing over who deserves who.”

There’s a plot element I remember from animated Batman—if superheroes have failsafes in case one of them goes bad, what if one of the baddies gets control of the failsafe? Bashe took it in a new direction that was interesting to watch unfold.

Both Shadow and Bean have to heal and accept medical help so that they can be the best for the superhero team and for each other. Naturally, this being a Kayla Bashe book, we get plenty of healing and positivity. Also, this being a Kayla Bashe book, Shadow is ‘they’ and nonbinary transfeminine (and both leads are bi), and the writing incorporates that identity seamlessly into the text.

One note that the beginning of this book was difficult for me because it opens with a lead character discovering the remains of their foster parents (eaten by alien lions or something.) I’ve lost a parent and stepparent so if you’re vulnerable to those memories, yes, this book will take you back there. But it will take you back accurately, and then leave the pain behind to do some storytelling, so don’t let that scare you away. “I promise you won’t have to miss them alone,” says Shadow, since they and Bean shared those foster parents who got eaten by aliens, and I know what that feels like. It’s little details like that which matter.

“You’ve got an extra villain to kick the butt of every day before you can even get out of bed, and you’ve been fighting alone — without any powers or weapons or anything — and still you manage to defeat it often enough to live your life. That makes you the bravest person I know.”

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About Shira

Queer Jewish feminist author
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