I never knew I wanted to see someone who looked like me on the cover of a book until I saw her: Evie Tanaka, star of Sarah Kuhn’s first novel, Heroine Complex. Evie has wavy brown hair, green eyes, freckles, and a tight T-shirt-hoodie combo that reminds me, at a glance, how it felt to be 15 in 2003. Like me, and like Kuhn, Evie is half Japanese and half white. Unlike us, as far as we know, she lives in a universe where evil spirits burst through portals, possess cupcakes and wedding dresses, and wreak havoc on San Francisco.
In Heroine Complex, Evie begins as the personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter (born Annie Chang), a high-maintenance superhero who employs a whole crew to handle the mundane behind-the-scenes work of supernatural crime-fighting, like managing her social media presence and taking her thigh-high boots in for cleaning. Kuhn describes the book as urban fantasy, a romance-heavy subgenre of fantasy, often featuring tough, stylish heroines (if you haven’t read a book in this genre before, think Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Charmed).
“I loved all these kickass girls in leather pants, but I was like, who has to do her laundry? Who has to clean up all these amazing messes?” says Kuhn. So she set out to write a sort of superhero Devil Wears Prada. In the process, she wanted to show women of color having fun, and in Heroine Complex and its sequel, Heroine Worship, they do. While hunting demons, Evie and Aveda also do karaoke, eat sugary cereal, and hook up with guys in places like a supply closet or the middle of a boxing ring in an empty gym.
During a time of rampant and high-profile whitewashing, particularly in fantasy and sci-fi (see Ghost in the Shell), Kuhn’s trilogy-in-progress lets Asian American women, including mixed-race ones like us, have the spotlight, not as sidekicks or girlfriends but as main characters, literally heroes, and more importantly, ones allowed to be flawed — selfish, stubborn, sensitive — and…