Everything Jason Reynolds writes reads like poetry, so it should come as no surprise that Miles Morales: Spider-Man is a love letter to poetry, but that’s just a small part of everything it is. It might be too much to say that it is everything, but not by much. This book is so deep it reaches back through time and rips open the history of oppression and lays bare the modern repercussions. Reynolds has grounded his tale of Miles Morales: Spider-Man in the ordinary world. He has traded the pyrotechnics, manufactured moodily lit angst, and literal world saving for a coming of age story about a boy trying to save himself and his corner of the universe.
If you are looking for an origin story you won't find it here. This is Miles Morales at the height of his superpowers as he struggles with what it means to be a hero and whether he is worthy of shouldering the responsibility of great power. The radioactive spider bite isn't even secondary in this story of secrets, family, friends, first crushes, boyhood, and manhood. Reynolds easily captures the awkwardness of teenage boys even though it's hard to imagine that someone with so much effortless cool ever faced the gawky and graceless uncertainty that defines adolescence. However, Miles Morales: Spider-Man is much more.
Reynolds doesn’t settle on the simple and often seen coming of age story. He has crafted a powerful treatise on the politics of race, class, gentrification, identity, the school to prison pipeline, and the ever creeping reality of an intolerant world. He makes visible the homeless, the addicts, the veterans broken by war, the brown boys, and the struggle. He does all of this in a slim volume of middle grade fiction all while doing just enough to satisfy the needs of those who showed up for the web slinging
Throughout the novel there was a constant hum - tension, suspense, menace. The deeper into the story I went the more on edge I became because the menace within these pages is real and now. It is early morning tweets calling an entire group burdens, it is in speeches celebrating brutality, it is in every family torn apart by xenophobic policies packaged as protection, it is every acquittal.
Reynolds isn't subtle with his message, but he shouldn't be. This book broke my heart and put it back together again. It also reinforced the politics of my profession. Who knew Spider-Man held that potential? I imagine a great many things hold that potential in the hands of a poet.