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Young Blood (An Umbrella Academy Novel)

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Book Review

In a prequel to the hit Netflix series, the six superpowered Hargreeves children want to be normal for one night. Unfortunately, the night has other plans.

Plot Summary

The Umbrella Academy franchise (as fans of the books or Netflix series well know) chronicles the adventures and the struggles of Sir Reginald Hargreeves’ adopted children: Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Ben and Viktor.

At the insistence of their father, these children formed a crime-fighting superhero team called The Umbrella Academy. But the team didn’t last, and readers and viewers were initially ushered into their world after The Umbrella Academy’s dissolution and the siblings’ estrangement, which left plenty of story untold.

This prequel aims to explore some of that story. Told from different perspectives each chapter, the book immediately immerses you into the world of the Umbrella Academy: the disappointed looks from Sir Hargreeves, the sibling quarrels and, of course, the siblings’ desire for something more.

The six, still together, decide to sneak out of their mansion to a fraternity party in some attempt to be normal. And “normal” means that they won’t be using their powers.

Easier said than done.

Perhaps uncoincidentally, the children find themselves in the middle of a superpowered army in the making. Their ringleader? The only person that made one of the children feel like he finally belonged.

They don’t get to be normal, but maybe that’s alright if they still were able to see what they really want outside of the Umbrella Academy—who they are apart from their father’s predetermined plans for them.

Yep, their lives have always been about actions. Consequences. Powers. Questions. Missions.

Their life has been a mission. The mission for tonight? Be normal… but also save the world.

Christian Beliefs

None.

Other Belief Systems

Klaus can talk to ghosts, which brings up a whole conversation about the afterlife. Klaus does not fear death because he knows it’s not the end, but he doesn’t necessarily believe in heaven. He believes that even the most fervent believer still doubts what happens once you die, and he is convinced “a person can’t come back from the dead.” (This is not said in reference to Jesus Christ, but also does not note him as an exception).

Some Hargreeves children deal with the guilt from their actions, fearing they were unjust by some ill-defined moral standard. But they seem to feel no lingering remorse by the end of the book.

Most of the characters covet, and nearly worship, worldly things. Luther longs for his father’s praise, Diego genuflects to justice and Alison worships beauty and popularity.

All the children have an unhealthy obsession with being “normal” by worldly standards.

The superpowered children are judge, jury and executioner of all things evil and feel the weight of that responsibility to watch over the world. They also briefly discuss philosophical issues that come with a spiritual tinge to them, including whether the ends justify the means.

Ryan, a child similarly superpowered, yet not under the instruction of into the Umbrella Academy, is also worshipped as a sort of god, able to make people’s wildest wishes true (in a sense). According to the book, his actions could’ve altered the course of the Earth. He is burdened by loneliness, though. He has followers, not friends, and he’s ultimately corrupted by power.

The superpowered children were born of an unnatural miracle birth before being adopted.

Authority Roles

The parenting roles in the book are questionable at best, and no characters seem to step up to the challenge of leading well.

While the book seems to suggest that the Umbrella Academy kids were raised well to best steward their powers for good, the methods of one Reginald Hargreeves are impersonal and harsh. He pushes his adopted children to be the best, but not through encouragement. Instead, he not only numbers the children, but he ranks them, with No. 1 being the best. And he builds a brand around his collection of superpowered kids. His role as a father figure is practically non-existent (one of the kids even said he couldn’t imagine Hargreeves holding him as a child), and his role as a team coach is still result-oriented and impersonal. But while he devotes much of his attention on his superpowered kids, he still keeps Viktor around—despite the fact that Viktor has no superpowers.

The kids’ adopted mother is the opposite. As a robot running on programming rather than common sense, she gives the children whatever they want, and there is nary a mention of the kids feeling too bad about her having to clean up for them.

In the place of parents, a leadership quarrel is present between Luther and Diego, neither of whom have all the answers on how to lead. Luther is possessive of his leadership position and lacks some serious humility. Diego is rash and jealous, setting up his future as a solo vigilante in the TV series. Whoever might be the better leader, all the children seem to agree that sibling rivalry is “normal,” even when it gets very violent.

Profanity & Violence

Just like the show, profanity shows up throughout the book. We read “a–,” “s—,” “d–n,” over 20 instances of “h—” and one instance of the f-word. God’s name is abused about 10 times.

Violence is also fairly prevalent. Much of it is your typical “superhero” violence, with descriptions of throwing punches and blocking kicks with little sense of the fallout. However, the main superpowered fight sequence is described in detail, with depictions of blood, near-death, nightmarish powers and apocalyptic conditions. The fight proves to be fatal for one, and near fatal for others.

The Umbrella Academy children think that fighting is all they’re good at and violence becomes their go-to to solve problems (even fighting each other). Klaus remembers hearing how ghosts died while alive (most of them gruesomely, it seems) and tries to figure out if one ghost died of alcohol poisoning or suicide. One of the characters throws himself off the roof but does not die.

The book doesn’t shy away from the stereotypical presentation of a fraternity party. Drugs, alcohol, and smoking are all very prevalent. Klaus gets intoxicated and high (clearly a habit for him), the underage children drink, and many of the partygoers are also under the influence to varying degrees. Getting drunk and high behind parents’ backs (as well as sneaking out and getting a tattoo or piercing) are all described as “normal” activities for older children. Viktor takes a pill anytime he feels nervous. (It is unclear whether or not this is a prescription medication.)

Sexual Content

Most of the issues, sexually, revolve around the character, Klaus, who is canonically queer. He wears a skirt (sometimes described as a kilt), a see-through sweater and makeup. He flirts with a fraternity member and later fantasizes about being with him sexually. In an intoxicated state, he kisses his brother on the cheek.

There’s also the matter of canonically transgender Viktor (formerly Vanya). In the author’s note, Alyssa Sheinmel writes that, even though the book is set before Vanya’s transition to Viktor, she uses the name “Viktor” and he/him pronouns out of respect. Without reading the author’s note or having seen the TV series, there is nothing to suggest Viktor is transgender.

The book describes partygoers “making out with various degrees of undress” and discuss who hooked-up with whom to get an invite to the party. One character fantasizes about being with a girl all night.

A ghost grandmother calls her granddaughter a “slut,” and a different ghost accuses a man of “forcing himself on her” when they were both alive.

Luther and Alison’s relationship is odd. They’re brother and sister and often act just as siblings would act. But sometimes, their relationship can feel more romantic.

Discussion Topics

What does the Bible teach about what happens when we die? How can we ask God for the faith to believe that?

God is the only entity with ultimate power over creation. How are we expected to steward the gifts he gave us for good and turn our worship to him?

Christians are not called to be normal, but rather faithful to God’s plan. How can we act as part of his adopted family while resisting the temptation to be “normal?”

Additional Comments

Many of the mature themes in The Umbrella Academy TV series also present themselves in the book Young Blood. Klaus is a burgeoning drug addict, loneliness is a real issue, violence and profanity are present throughout and there are gender issues.

The story itself is engaging, with twists and turns ultimately tying in nicely to the first season of the show. But the violent and substance-filled environment is hard to wade through—and it’d be a deal killer for many families.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Caleb Gottry