New Book Nook: Spider-Man’s Social Dilemma Gets to the Heart of the Web-Slinging Superhero

This review was originally posted on The Geeky Waffle. It has been reposted here with permission.

The last few years have given us a wide variety of Spider-Mans (Spider-Men?) to get invested in and cheer for, from old  faves coming back to the fight to newer iterations crossing the animated spider-verse and stealing the hearts of audiences everywhere. And now this summer, Preeti Chhibber’s take on Peter Parker becomes a worthy addition to that canon by getting right to the heart of what’s made Spidey so lovable over the last few decades. 

Spider-Man’s Social Dilemma is not an origin story, per se, as Peter already has his powers, his suit and a reputation for being the friendly neighborhood superhero. Instead of picking up the story from that familiar beat, Chhibber instead chooses to focus on other no less beloved parts of his life, namely his job taking pictures for the Daily Bugle and his romance with girl-next-door MJ Watson. But for all that it’s a coming of age story, there is also a thrilling mystery woven in, that is just spooky enough, and just otherworldly enough to keep readers of all ages invested.

Though it’s true there are elements of the supernatural in the story, the true strength of the story, and of Chhibber’s writing, is how the “friendly neighborhood” part of “friendly neighborhood Spider-Man” never really gets lost in the larger-than-life events surrounding Peter and his friends. At the end of the day, they act and feel like teenagers — very intelligent teenagers, but teenagers all the same — who are just trying to do their best. 

A pleasant surprise I found while reading is that Chhibber did not keep the points of view limited to just Peter and Flint Marko (aka Sandman), the novel’s antagonist. She also gives plenty of time to MJ’s internal monologue, both as someone getting embroiled in a superhero conflict that is larger than her, but also as a teenager struggling at once with feelings she does and doesn’t understand. Her MJ is fascinating, and showcases the kind of vulnerability that we often lose in (usually female) characters when trying to portray them as “strong.” MJ is intellectually intelligent and emotionally intelligent. She has a good heart and genuinely cares about her loved ones and wants to make the world a better place. But she’s human too, she makes mistakes, and isn’t condemned for them, but instead is given the space to learn and to grow from them. 

Though I left high school behind quite some time ago, Chhibber taps into such relatability with Peter and MJ in particular that it gave me a nostalgic lens with which to look back at that time of my life, and will no doubt give the younger readers at whom this is aimed something to look forward to in high school (sorry kids, superhero or not, emotions at that age truly are that messy). This one is a must-read for Spidey fans young and old, and I cannot wait to see where Chhibber takes this story next!

Spider-Man’s Social Dilemma is out July 26. Special thank you to Disney Books for an advance copy for review purposes.

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