THE NOBODY PEOPLE By Bob Proehl
Titan Books, s/b, £8.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
The Nobody People are mostly people like you and I – normal people, but with abnormal abilities, hiding in plain sight. Some can fly, some can make things burn, others can talk to machines, stretch their bodies, psychically control people, feel emotions, create matter out of nothing. Others are more obvious, with physical mutations that mean they cannot easily hide. They have lived among us for a long time without drawing notice outside of the conspiracy theorists and in smaller communities. One man, Kevin Bishop, runs a school in the centre of New York for children with these abilities, and tries to keep them safe. When it becomes apparent that he cannot keep them hidden any longer, he makes the difficult decision to announce their presence to the world in the hope that they will be accepted into society and no longer have to hide.
It’s inevitable that a story such as this will draw comparisons with the X-Men, and there are many that are clear to see. A mostly well-intentioned and charismatic headteacher with psychic abilities (no wheelchair for Kevin Bishop, though), a school for “the gifted”, prejudice, people using their abilities for less virtuous (or even murderous) purposes. However, Proehl manages to make his world and the characters with it seem so much more real and relevant to the modern day. No superhero costumes, real emotions, real issues, but still huge amounts of prejudice. In a world where immigrants are turned away, and nations threaten to build walls to keep others out, it’s easy to see the events that Proehl depicts occurring. Deeply rooted suspicion among those without abilities (christened as “damps” within these pages), lynch mobs taking the law into their own hands, threats of genocide, secret internment camps, bills being rushed into law to ensure those with abilities to make the internment camps legal – all of these seem terribly familiar to any student of history.
Proehl’s writing is skillful and a joy to consume – he pulls the reader deep into his world, as the students and teachers battle to be accepted, as people love and live, make stupid, human mistakes and decisions, as they die and are mourned. It seems that there can be no end in sight for the Nobody People, and Proehl finishes the book with a suitable cliff-hanger leaving us desperate to find out what happens next. Perhaps Proehl is one of the Nobody People with an ability to draw readers into his fiction and make them feel the emotions that his characters go through – there are ups and downs, and as a reader you ride that rollercoaster alongside the characters feeling every bump and dip.
It is easy to see a book such as this being turned into a successful television series. Personally, I can only hope that this happens, as I thoroughly enjoyed this and cannot wait for the next instalment!