Penelope Akk wants to be a superhero. She's got superhero parents. She's got the ultimate mad science power, filling her life with crazy gadgets even she doesn't understand. She has two super powered best friends. In middle school, the line between good and evil looks clear.
In real life, nothing is that clear. All it takes is one hero's sidekick picking a fight, and Penny and her friends are labeled supervillains. In the process, Penny learns a hard lesson about villainy: She's good at it. Criminal masterminds, heroes in power armor, bottles of dragon blood, alien war drones, shape shifters and ghosts, no matter what the super powered world throws at her, Penny and her friends come out on top. They have to. If she can keep winning, maybe she can clear her name before her mom and dad find out.
About the Author
Emily Woo Zeller's multilingual, multicultural framework led to a natural fit as an audiobook narrator. While she specializes in Asian American narratives, Emily's work spans a broad spectrum, including young adult fiction. She won an AudioFile Earphones Award for her narration of Gulp by Mary Roach.
Read an Excerpt
Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain
By Richard Roberts
Curiosity Quills PressCopyright © 2014 Richard Roberts
All rights reserved.
On the last day before I got my super power, I was sulking because I didn't have a super power.
"That's not going to work," Claire warned me.
"It will! I've been studying my Dad's notes," I snapped back.
She tilted her head down and looked at me over her glasses. "You can't give yourself super powers with a double-A battery, Penny."
"It's not the power," I explained. "It's the frequency. Get it just right and it resonates with your whole nervous system and gives it a jolt. I've seen Dad do it. If you have powers, they go off!"
I snapped that at her, too. I was frustrated! I clipped the wire another millimeter and looked at the wavelength reading on the meter. It went down a notch, like it was supposed to. I was dreading the next question. She was going to ask that question.
"So what's the frequency?" Claire asked right on time.
I collapsed on top of the workbench and confessed, "I have no idea."
Claire giggled, but at least she tried to restrain it.
"I was reaching. I knew I couldn't just guess. I don't know. I guess I hoped I'd get lucky," I grumped.
Claire put her hand on my shoulder. "We're supposed to be working on our science fair projects. Mr. Zwelf is being really nice about it."
I pushed myself back up and insisted, "This is my science fair project. It will work! I just have to steal my Dad's notes and do the math. And measure my body weight and stuff. There's a lot of math." A lot of math. A really stupifyingly tremendous amount of math. Pages upon pages of math. Even with a calculator, I'd be up all night handling the algebra.
"You know inventing and science are two different things, right?" Claire had the world's most teasing grin. Like, you looked at those teeth and you couldn't be mad at her for making fun of you, because it really was all in good fun. That's how it worked on me, anyway.
"So what are you doing for your science fair project?" I demanded. I actually hadn't wanted to know. Any excuse to be lab partners with your best friend, right?
"I'm already done! I blind tested photos of Mom when she's using her powers and when she's not using her powers on a bunch of boys. They couldn't tell the difference, which shows her power must be psychic, right?" she answered, so very casual.
"You want your super power as bad as I do!" Hard to sound accusing with a grin like the one stretching my face all of a sudden. This stuff was no secret, but, criminy, obvious much, Claire?
"It's still good scientific method," Ray pointed out, sliding down the workbench with his textbook. If Mr. Zwelf hadn't come down on me and Claire arguing, he wasn't going to pitch a fit if Ray made three.
I turned to him. "What are you doing for your project?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I'm atrocious at science fair projects. I can never get an idea until the last minute. Right now, I'm looking through the book and hoping inspiration leaps out at me."
"You have trouble with science fair projects? You?" I asked, honestly blown away. Ray was the smartest kid I knew. My folks were celebrated super geniuses who had a framed letter on the wall from the UN thanking them for saving the world, and Ray was smarter than me. He could probably do the stupid math in Dad's notes. I wasn't looking forward to it.
"It's so meaningless and arbitrary. I might as well be measuring plastic cups to find out which ones are more dense," he griped, propping his elbow on the workbench and leaning his head on his fist. His blonde hair was so fluffy, it hung right down over his hand.
Ow! I still had the current on. I'd zapped myself on the antenna. Wasn't much of a charge, but still. I shook my finger and pried out the battery, but I didn't have time to dismantle the antenna. The bell rang.
"Lunch time!" Claire squealed with delight, stretching her arms above her head as Ray stared.
Love triangles suck.
* * *
"Why are you so dramatic today?" Ray asked as I sat down with my tray across from him. Just me and him at our table. I could listen to that inexplicable English accent the whole hour. He didn't know where it came from, and I didn't care.
"I'm not being dramatic today," I argued, trying not to be dramatic about it.
"Yes, you are."
I lifted my head in a show of innocence. "I'm not being dramatic. My parents are dramatic. Mom can reduce a mugger to tears with a speech about the statistical chance of ruining his life going up with every crime. You were there. He was bawling like a baby."
"Does she really prepare those speeches ahead of time?" he asked, grinning. Ray spends half his life grinning, and a third of his life sleeping, and the remaining sixth happens when I'm not around.
"She has a flow chart depending on circumstances. I got to draw the lines the last time she updated it. I was seven." I added that last part because, you know, it's beneath my dignity now.
"You're being dramatic for you," Ray pointed out, zeroing back in on the argument.
He was totally right, but I was saved from admitting it, because Claire had arrived. She brought her lunch, so she should get to the cafeteria early, but she'd never been big on hurrying. I bet her Mom trained her to be fashionably late.
She was heading straight here, so it looked like she'd be sitting with us today. Okay, I needed to watch that snippiness. Claire sits with me most days, it's just that Claire is welcome anywhere. Like most lunch rooms, the cafeteria of Northeast West Hollywood Middle is laid out in an intricate map of feudal kingdoms. The performing art kids have three tables, the computer science kids have a table, me and Claire and Ray have a table. Claudia has a table all to herself, poor girl. I'd invited her over to sit with us once, but she refused. Since Marcia had pulled the "sit with her, then make her the butt of all the jokes" trick on her once, it was hard to blame her. You can't help some people, much as you might want to.
Speaking of Marcia — thinking about Marcia, technically — maybe Claire wouldn't be sitting with us today after all. Marcia made her friends scoot over and pointed at the bench. "Space for you, Claire!"
No, Claire was sitting with us. She gave Marcia a smile and a shake of the head, trying to be polite, but walked right past. Marcia looked like someone'd stuck a rat up her nose. She should have let one of the other girls give the invite. Marcia is a Mean Girl, and she sits at the Popular Table, and, yeah, both exist and everybody knows it. I swear they were only popular with each other, but somehow they were the Popular Girls, even though it's Claire that everyone really likes.
I think our table is the "extroverted geeks" table. Or maybe it really is the "children of superheroes" table. Of course, both leave Ray out. He's quiet with other people. Eh, who am I kidding? The three of us were filed firmly under "other."
"Is Penny still desperate to get her powers?" Claire asked as she slid into place next to me.
"I had managed to distract her until now," Ray answered.
I threw my hands up in the air. "What's wrong with wanting to get my powers as soon as possible?"
"Didn't your parents' powers only surface in college?" Ray pointed out. I think I'd strangle myself if it took that long.
"Mom's power emerged at about my age." Claire was so breezy about it, but everybody knew she'd inherit The Minx's abilities. She'd be less like her Mom if she were a clone. Blonde, wavy hair, a curvy figure already, delicate, blonde doll face, all lips and eyes – pretty much the opposite of my shapeless stick topped with brown, braided pigtails. On her, glasses looked like fashion accessories.
"I can't even be positive I'll get powers. My Dad's thing with science is a brain mutation. He identified it. Mom's a regular human," I grumped.
Claire unbuckled her lunch box with a beatific smile. "My father probably had super powers. I should be a shoo-in."
Ray blushed visibly. Okay, maybe I blushed a bit, too. Claire really didn't know who her father was. Apparently there had been a lot of candidates, thanks to her mother's power of Clouding Men's Minds. If 'minds' was the right word.
And Claire was looking forward to inheriting those powers.
Thank goodness, Ray also wanted to move on. "There's no way your mother is human. Regular humans can't do that," he insisted.
"Chess grandmasters are regular humans. She says it's just focus and study, like Sherlock Holmes." Contrary to what I'd just said, I agreed with him. We'd been passed on the road by a police chase once, and she'd gotten on the radio and told them where to set up a road block, and they caught the criminals. She'd been able to explain it, but when she got to calculating how fast the criminals had intended to drive rather than how fast they were driving, I gave up. I knew she wasn't perfect, but, when villains heard The Audit was coming, they used to give up right there, and I couldn't blame them.
Claire passed me a cup of real gravy, which I poured on the school's bland Salisbury steak. Cutting a slice, I took a bite. The rich gravy made a world of difference. Claire's lunchbox is a collectible antique with Krazy Kat on the cover. Her Mom feeds her like a princess. My Mom makes me buy a cafeteria lunch. I would never have asked, but Claire shares the wealth automatically. She has those looks, and she's generous and kind. Is it any wonder her Mom got a full pardon when she retired? Of course, she'd saved the world a couple of times. What kind of crazy supervillain tries to destroy the world?
Half of them.
I stopped jonesing for super powers before I started and dug into my lunch. A little gravy made the mashed potatoes stop being pulped cardboard, too.
Claire gave Ray a chocolate cupcake, which must have made his sandwiches a thousand times more bearable. Ray eats like he's on the edge of starvation. As skinny as he is, his metabolism must burn like a blow torch. He got done in mere minutes and asked, "How did the big German test go?"
"Nicht so gross. Got a B," Claire admitted.
Ray looked at me.
I couldn't think of any way to brush it off.
I let out a sigh. "I got a C."
"Ow. Really?" asked the boy who never got less than an A on any test in his life.
Not that he was trying to be mean. He was trying to be sympathetic, which made it worse. "I'm pretty sure I'm going to get a C in the class," I admitted. I winced, my whole body tightening up, but it hadn't been ... that bad to say. Just pretty bad.
Ray tried to comfort me. "Everybody has subjects they just don't get. Languages are yours, I guess."
"I'm not supposed to have bad subjects! My parents are the two smartest people in the world!" God, it dug at me. It dug right at my heart. How could I even explain this to them? "Can you imagine the look my Dad gave me when I brought home a B in Algebra II? He was trying to not let me know how disappointed he was. That's the look he had!"
"You weren't even supposed to be in Algebra II. You and Ray are the only kids going across to Upper High for Geometry, and you're getting an A in that," Claire pointed out. She was trying to cheer me up, not blow me off. She didn't get that it just didn't matter.
I couldn't help but feel bitter. Or cheated, maybe. Some kind of ugly emotion, anyhow. "I just want my super powers to activate now. I won't even have to worry about this stuff. I'm smart enough to get this frequency stimulator thing Dad designed working, at least," I grumped.
The bell rang. I wasn't done eating. Oh, well, I'd had the good stuff.
You want to know how good friends Claire and Ray are? When we got up, I noticed a plastic case in her bag. She'd gotten a new superhero collectable figure. She and Ray can geek out about them for hours. They'd kept their mouths shut about it not to rub it in. Then I'd spent the whole lunch period talking about super powers anyway.
* * *
We all had PE together. Half the class was spent changing into and out of our gym clothes, which I bet is why we only had the class on Wednesdays. Sometimes we could get together and talk, like when we were standing in line for the horse. Today was basketball, so no luck there.
The game went about like expected. Two random kids were picked as captains. The boy picked Ray second to last, and the girl picked me last. I wasn't the last person picked, though. The boy still had one more person to pick. Claudia, of course. Ray and I ran around the edge of the crowd until someone threw the ball over everyone's heads, and I jumped up and grabbed it.
Ha! I wasn't the greatest dribbler in the world, but I was in the clear because I hadn't been in the pack in the first place. I dribbled right past Claudia, who didn't even try to stop me, and found myself face to face with Ray. He wasn't a good runner, and he was already so winded I was able to duck right by him. Unfortunately for me, Claire had been lingering on the edges too. She snatched the ball in the middle of one of my clumsy dribbles and passed it to Li, who was a way better shot than either of us.
Still, face to face to face on the basketball court had been cool. I was considering chalking up this gym class as a rare success when the boy captaining his team started to yell. Not "yell," exactly, but he had a nasty tone as he told Claudia, "What is wrong with you? You just stood there! You really are slow in the head, aren't you? At least try to play the game!"
I wondered if I should get Miss Theotan's attention, but it wouldn't do any good. If she'd witnessed it personally, she'd come down on bullying like this like a ton of bricks, but she was on the other side of the court, and if a teacher doesn't see it, it didn't happen. Instead, Claudia turned away from the boy without a word. The crowd of kids taking the ball away from each other again and again turned and lurched in our direction with Claudia in the middle of it. She grabbed the ball as it went past, tossed it over everyone's heads, ran through the crowd, and caught it herself, then launched it from the three point line and sank the basket.
You'd think that would get everyone gabbing and circling around Claudia and she'd finally be popular, right? No, that's not how it works. All of a sudden a girl was complaining to Miss Theotan that it wasn't fair that one team had one more player than the other team, and, as Ray and Claire and I stood around feeling helpless and guilty about it, Claudia ended up sitting on a bench for the rest of the game.
That put my mood right back in the dumps. I dodged Claire and Ray both when class ended, and with it the school day. I didn't step out the school doors until it was exactly time to meet my Mom, driving up to take me home. She didn't ask me about my obvious bad mood, so I didn't have to tell her about the test.
* * *
Nothing eases the sting of social injustice like knowing you'll soon have super powers to help you combat it. Nothing eases the sting of lousy test scores like knowing you'll soon have the ability to absorb and then apply abstract data far beyond mere human limits. If they ever really integrate psychological theory, my Dad will be impossible to live with. Until then, us normal humans have a shot at outwitting him.
Not a good shot. He's still a genius. Still, I had the advantage of experience. I wandered into his office. To my delight, I found him at his computer with an e-reader laid on either side of his keyboard, scrolling slowly down a web page with lots of text and a few teeny, tiny diagrams. The curiosity bug had caught him. He was researching. He'd have no attention left for anything else until it all came together in his head.
Or not. As I picked my way through the stacked up books and lifted the first pile of printed paper to peek at the title "Subliminal Paralyzation Cascades" he spun around in his seat and greeted me. "Hey, Pumpkin! How was school?"
I pointed at the "Pumpkin" jar. He put a dollar in it blithely. It hadn't made him stop, but the penalty really supplemented my pathetic allowance. "Princess" is five bucks, but I'm saving that jar for emergencies.
I needed a plan.
"Where's that paper on the antenna thing that resonates with the human nervous system?" I asked. My plan? Pretend it was something totally normal to ask for.
Dad took off his work glasses, which folded up as he scratched his head. "If you want me to build you one, the answer is 'no.' The shock is too dangerous to be used casually, and not dangerous enough to be a weapon. It didn't even bring Marvelous' powers back. Really a failed project."
Excerpted from Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain by Richard Roberts. Copyright © 2014 Richard Roberts. Excerpted by permission of Curiosity Quills Press.
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