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Quince by Sebastian Kadlecik, Kit Steinkellner and Emma Steinkellner

the graphic novel Quince surrounded by party streamers and confetti

The day before Lupe’s quinceñera, the usually quiet hallways of high school are abuzz with excitement for her Mexican bat mitzvah! Usually no one pays attention to Lupe, but now she’s throwing a party with a DJ and food and she’s the center of attention. Yes, everything might go back to normal after, but Lupe has a weird feeling that it just may not…

Lupe’s life is boring. She’s a total nerd and has the best-worst family a teenager could ask for. Her mom loves her in a nagging way, her dad is so embarrassing, her older brother Carlos is a prankster, her little sister Sophia is awesome, but her Abuela Emma is always the best and never the worst. Point in fact, Abuela has just finished making Lupe’s quinceañera dress and it is PERFECT! As Lupe changes back into her boring everyday clothes, Abuela warns Lupe: with a great quince dress comes great responsibility. Her quince changed her life and Lupe’s may very well do the same. 

Lupe is freaking out, she feels like she is going to vomit and have diarrhea and have her period all at the same time. While she’s giving herself a pep talk in the bathroom mirror, her hands start to glow and then KA-BOOM! the bathroom explodes. This is not the cool way to find out you have super powers. Abuela knocks on the bathroom door and pays no attention to Lupe’s “don’t come in!” Lupe explains what happened before Abuela says they will fix it. She takes Lupe’s hands, instructs her to close her eyes and imagine the bathroom as it should be. When Lupe opens her eyes again, everything is fixed and it’s time to quince it up!

The party is a complete success. After, Lupe is debating whether she’s lost her mind, developed magical superpowers or, knowing her, both, but in any case, she just needs to get away, so she starts to fly. Well, it’s more like floating and it’s boring as heck. Eventually she works out how to steer and makes it back to her bedroom, though not particularly gracefully. Flying is dumb. Her Abuela is sitting on the bed, waiting for her. 

Abuela explains that magical superpowers happen in their family. Back in the 1960s, when she was fifteen, she didn’t have a quinceñera because they were reserved for the wealthy. Instead she got magical superpowers for a year. The best power was the ability to freeze time (she did all her best snacking that year). Lupe asks if she needs to quit school and become a vigilante now. Unfortunately no, she still has to go to school. Abuela advises Lupe to use her powers, and wisely, while she still has them. 

The movies have it all wrong… being a real life superhero isn’t all hot guys and adoration, it’s your Abuela waking you up to train at 5:49 am… AM! Before the sun is even up! to go out into the desert so no one sees her practicing, and it hurts so much. Lupe’s protests but her Abuela uses Lupe’s full legal name, so you know she’s cracking the whip and means business. You would think the rest of Lupe’s family would question what is going on, but no, they’re happy to believe Lupe is training for a marathon or something. Training all summer long has meant that all the things that seemed impossible are now just really, really hard. Heck yes, improvement!

As the new school year looms, Abuela warns Lupe that getting quince powers isn’t by accident and that something is coming. This means Lupe needs to be ready at any moment; therefore, she’s got to wear her superhero costume under her clothes because there aren’t any handy phone booths to change in anymore. Sigh, infinity-kajillion wedgies are in her future. 

Lupe’s first day of sophomore year was not interrupted by an alien invasion. Neither was the first week or the first few weeks actually. Boo! Lupe resorts to praying for something, anything, to happen so she can use her powers. Ask, and it shall be delivered. At school, Hot Devin falls hanging up banners and now is hanging off the top of the gymnasium. Lupe rushes off to take off her street clothes, and, in her superhero costume embossed with a giant Q, Lupe flies up to Hot Devin and catches him just before he falls. After safely delivering Hot Devin to the ground, Lupe kisses his cheek. Hot Devin is infatuated, and Lupe feels so cool! 

From then on, Lupe is busy being a superhero. Lupe barely sleeps since her Abuela bought a police scanner from Amazon and she barely eats as she’s always rushing off to save the day during lunch. At least she’s blowing up social media. As nice as randos thinking she’s great is, it’s the IRL attention that’s the best. Especially from Hot Devin. Especially when Hot Devin defends her non-skinny figure to school mean girl Jasmine who whines that she always thought superheroes were supposed to be skinny. Now, if Hot Devin would only see Lupe and not just her alter ego Q. Regardless of wearing a mask, Lupe tries to help people, like when Garrett Glick is getting bullied by some unimaginative douchebags. 

So Lupe is missing sleep, skipping food, and now her grades are slipping because she has zero time for homework. Her parents are worried so they’ve hired a tutor… who is currently knocking at the door… and it’s Hot Devin. To add to his cuteness, he sings songs and plays guitar. In fact, on Wednesday, he puts those skills to use along with a big banner saying “Q! Will you go to homecoming with me?” Lupe is desperate to go and begs her Abuela for permission and she consents, though with a guilt trip about saving innocent lives. In her Q disguise, Lupe flies to Hot Devin’s apartment and says she can go, but only for one song because the whole superhero gig doesn’t allow for time off. They kiss and everything is amazing for the next twelve minutes…

…when Lupe is caught by her mom and dad sneaking back into her room. Carlos and Sophia are there to watch her get in trouble. Lupe’s mom and dad think she’s on drugs, or fallen in with the wrong crowd, or it could be a boy!? Abuela walks in while Lupe’s mom is having a freak out having never been a cool teenager so she has no idea what Lupe is doing and tells Lupe her family needs the truth. So Lupe tells them she is a superhero… and they don’t believe her. Sophia’s evidence is that Lupe and Q have different butts, which is a strong case. Abuela backs up Lupe, potentially with an overshare regarding the superhero costume, but still. Because this confession requires theatrics and needs to be cool, Lupe says she will prove she is Q the following night while everyone is at homecoming. 

Lupe saves a family from a burning building, which very much makes the point to her family that she is indeed Q. Even Sophia believes her big sister has a superhero's butt. While her family celebrates with ice cream, Lupe has another engagement… her one dance with Hot Devin at homecoming. 

Having her family know her superhero alter ego isn’t the blessing her imagination led her to believe. There isn’t a giant stack of pancakes for breakfast in bed, it’s still cereal, but this time her mom begs her to be careful and decides she’ll come to watch her fight crime just to make sure she’s okay. Her dad tries to coach her, as does Carlos, and Sophia has ideas about her costume with better fashun. She should have just pretended she was on drugs… she misses the days of her middle-child-syndroming. It’s equally annoying and awesome getting exactly what you want. 

After winter break however, things begin to change. There’s a criminal spraying glowing green goo all over the school and there appears to be a symbol amongst it. Lupe may not be the only one with superpowers at her high school. Lupe decides she needs to hang out at the school every night until the creeper comes back, Carlos volunteers to join the stakeout. That night he dresses in black and puts on a mask. While they’re sitting in Carlos’s car, a sneeze comes from the back, of course Sophia has snuck out with them and hidden under the gross-smelling boy clothes he never cleans out. As they’re arguing about the appropriate age to start fighting crime, Carlos spots a green glow from the school. 

Lupe quietly sneaks into the school and spots the creeper painting YOU WILL ALL BE SORRY in glowy green goo. She uses her powers to push him back which also reveals his face under the glowy green goo mask. It’s the boy she saved from the unimaginative bullies, Garrett Glick. Insultingly, Garrett doesn’t really recognize Lupe despite sharing classes for literal years. Garrett also didn’t naturally get his superpowers. His powers came from his dead dad’s mad scientist laboratory where he spent the last couple of months performing experiments on himself. Creepy. 

Garrett also needs a dictionary, he sees himself as an antihero like Batman or Deadpool who will give those who have made his life miserable a taste of their own medicine. Lupe correctly points out that that’s villain behavior. Correcting Garrett only makes him mad and he slams Lupe against the wall hard. He demands she stay out of his way, but she won’t let him hurt people. He smugly walks away, threatening to telekinesis-murder everyone at the school and fly away after revealing her identity, leaving Lupe to be a government experiment. Definite creepy villain behavior. 

Knowing who the creepy villain is is one thing, but being able to do something about it is another. While some of the boys at school use the creepy messages to their dating advantage, Hot Devin has complete faith Q will handle everything. Despite being a super cool superhero, on her way to her tutoring session with Hot Devin, Lupe still trips over a couple of chairs in the library and exclaims loudly, “blech my life.”

Later, instead of tailing creepy Garrett and making her move, Lupe goes to make out with Hot Devin as Q, though she does confess her worries about the creepy Garrett. Hot Devin will always believe in Q despite Q insisting her real identity is lame and she’s incompetent at being a real person. Tearfully she mutters “blech my life.” Hot Devin gives Q a knowing look before telling her she needs to believe in herself as much as everyone else believes in her. 

Lupe glares daggers at the back of Garrett’s head all class and as she walks out, she hands him a note. “Meet me after school. Let’s finish this.” Creepy Garrett doesn’t show. Fine, Lupe will bring the fight to him, so she finds his address and heads over. The front door is open and the house seems empty which is super foreboding. Inside, Lupe finds Garrett’s room and inside scrawled across his wall is a message: YOU WIN. 

Though the creepy message is an anticlimactic ending, everyone at school is happy the creepy villain is gone. Hot Devin intercepts Lupe heading toward her locker just in time to see her reaction to the flowers, balloons, banner and message, WILL YOU GO TO PROM WITH ME? - DEVIN. Squee! Lupe wants to know why he isn’t asking Q, so Hot Devin tells her not many people say “blech my life.” Dang, he worked out her secret identity, but Hot Devin tells Lupe he is the dumb one for taking nine months to work out the embarrassingly obvious. Now he sees Lupe, and Lupe is the best person ever. Double squee! 

At home, Abuela isn’t sharing Lupe’s enthusiasm, she’s concerned about creepy Garrett just dropping out of sight. It’s too anticlimactic. Abuela also thinks Lupe shouldn’t get distracted by prom. Lupe protests that she’s spent the last year fighting crime, she’s allowed to go to prom, plus it’s on her birthday. Something feels off to Abuela and she is disappointed in Lupe, but Lupe wants to go to prom and wants her Abuela to be happy for her. 

The first hour of the prom is beautiful and romantic with Hot Devin but then creepy Garrett turns up saying “Did you miss me?” Nope. Creepy Garrett then uses his telekinesis powers to cause chaos and Lupe realizes he’s going to pull a Carrie, but she’s got to stop him despite not having her costume and mask. As creepy Garrett has mean girl Jasmine, who has been crowned the prom queen, cornered, Lupe stands between them. Lupe tells creepy Garrett that yes, Jasmine says hurtful things but that is no excuse to try to murder her at prom and his excuse about having a tortured high school experience is garbage because everyone’s had a tortured high school experience. Also, he’s not an antihero! Gah! With that Lupe uses her powers to push creepy Garrett away. He uses his powers on her, and they begin to fight. 

Creepy Garrett is stronger and meaner, which is not great, but Lupe is in the fight to win it and has a pure heart and the power of love on her side. Plus she looks fabulous in her prom dress. Lupe finishes kicking creepy Garrett’s butt when the cops show up, meanwhile everyone at Prom has been recording the fight on their phones. She begs them not to post the fight because she doesn’t want her secret identity blown and to be turned into a government experiment. Jasmine leads the others in deleting the recording. Lupe saved her life, so owes her that, plus she’s trying to grow as a person because her sister says she has internalized misogyny. Anywho, the police drag creepy Garrett away while Hot Devin covers Lupe with his suit jacket. 

As Lupe watches creepy Garrett get into the police car, her mom calls. Abuela is in the hospital. As Lupe is making Abuela promise to live another hundred years, she gets a text from creepy Garrett. He’s escaped and is waiting for her at the Old Clock Tower. Abuela tries to push Lupe out because she’ll be sixteen in a few minutes and needs her powers. Instead, Lupe holds her Abuela and uses the last of her quince powers to heal her. 

Time for the on-the-nose final showdown. Powerless, Lupe goes to the clock tower and takes the stairs to the top. Creepy Garrett is just Garrett standing on the literal and figurative edge. He thought about murdering Lupe, but now he’s thinking he might just murder himself. Or maybe both of them. If Lupe has a say in it, she votes maybe not murdering anyone, and maybe Garrett gets therapy instead. Angrily, Garrett uses his powers to push Lupe and demands she get up and fight before realizing she is powerless. He becomes confused that she would come to the showdown without them. 

Lupe tells him it’s what heroes do and she’s learned over this last year that the stupidest thing to do and best thing to do are usually the same thing. Garrett pours his heart out to her then. His dad died and was the only person who liked him, his mom is a grief zombie, he doesn’t have friends, and his superpowers aren’t fixing anything. Garrett admits he’s broken. Lupe tells Garrett she isn’t there to fight him, she’s there to help him. She knows what it’s like to be sad and lonely, she knows what it’s like to have powers that don’t fix things and she knows they can do great things without them. As Lupe reaches for Garrett, he pushes her away again, this time over the edge of the tower. 

Lupe falls. Just before she hits the ground, Garrett reaches for her and stops her fall. Apparently Lupe is annoying, but not annoying enough to die. Gee, thanks. Well, Garrett is being pretentious and overly dramatic, but she still wants to help him, and that’s how Lupe and Garrett became friends. Lupe sat with him while he talked to his mom, Garrett joined Lupe and her friends at lunch, after school Lupe walked him to therapy and waited for him until it was over. Sometimes, people just need someone to sit with them. 

Lupe sometimes misses her powers, but now she gets to sleep and eat and spend time with her friends. Without being a hero, it feels like she’s missing something. Now Lupe does her heroine without magical superpowers, she helps at the community garden, the food bank, retirement home, soup kitchen, and animal shelter. She doesn’t do it alone either. Her friends, family and Hot Devin are heroes, too. Being a superhero isn’t about wearing a costume and mask, it isn’t about magical superpowers, it’s about the size of your heart. Cheesy? Yes, but it’s true. 

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