What was teen Wonder Woman like before she had the Lasso of Truth?
A new YA graphic novel Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed by acclaimed author Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak) tells the story of a young Diana who navigates pimples and unwanted body hair—along with unexpectedly ending up as a refugee in a foreign land. But, even far away from her home in Themyscira, Diana's fight against injustice continues.
"I've had a very strong connection to Wonder Woman from my own childhood and adolescence. I'm a big strong woman, and was a big, strong girl. And I had a mother who had very traditional notions of what it was to be a woman that I wasn't comfortable with. I didn't fit in my mom's mold," Anderson, 58, says of the graphic novel, which she created with artist Leila del Duca. "To see this example of a woman who uses her strength, both her physical strength and her interior strength, to make the world safer and better for people, I was like, 'That's who I want to be.'"
She continues, "So I was channeling my childhood delight and appreciation for this character through the entire story."
Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed, which published on June 2, follows Diana, who is about to celebrate her 16th birthday. But, on the day of her party, a raft of refugees enters Themyscira. While trying to help save them, Diana is swept away and eventually ends up on foreign soil. Despite her unfamiliar surroundings, Diana uses her knowledge of languages, compassion for others, and intelligence to fight against child trafficking, hunger, and homelessness—atrocities that she's never seen before arriving in the U.S. The result is an inspiring story of a teen who becomes a superhero, even before she has superhero powers. It's also a compelling reflection on what it means to be a refugee and an American.
The graphic novel is one in a new series of YA books by DC that reimagine the lives of iconic superheroes in standalone stories. (Meg Cabot wrote Black Canary: Ignite; Melissa de la Cruz wrote Gotham High; and Kami Garica wrote Teen Titans graphic novel series.)
"I think for some teen readers, it will sadly feel a little bit familiar. It'll describe situations [and] feelings that they're going through, and so they get to see some representation of that on the page," Anderson says. "And for other teen readers, this is why we want our kids to be consuming literature. So they can learn about the world. Because when we don't prepare our kids for the darkness out there, we are leaving them vulnerable."
Anderson was inspired to write this version of Diana's story because of her own experiences as a foreign exchange student in Denmark when she was 16. There, she learned the language and only talked to her family twice over the course of her 13-month stay. ("That year just taught me so much about myself," she says. "Being in a different culture and making lots of mistakes, but trying your best.")
The author was also motivated to write a story about refugees after seeing a haunting photo of war refugees who tried to escape across the Mediterranean a few years ago.
"It was a picture of a boat that hadn't made it, everybody had drowned," Anderson remembers. "And the life jackets washed up on the shore, and the picture was somebody from the refugee camp picking up a child sized life jacket, and the child wasn't in it."
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Those type of injustices inspire Anderson to write stories for teen readers.
"What I love about writing for teenagers is that that's the moment in your life when you're like, you're so sure, right?" she says. "You're just coming out of childhood, recognizing what a mess the adult world is and the hypocrisies, and inequities, and injustice. And that's why most revolutions are led by young people, because they're really clear about what it could be, what it should be. And so that's the world that I wanted to see Diana enter."
Anderson made sure the world that Diana entered was represented accurately. During Diana's time in America, she encounters people of all backgrounds and races. Anderson was also eager to celebrate the story of a superhero who is a teenage girl.
"We have such an opportunity in this magic moment of comics and graphic novels and superheroes to make sure that we're representing the superhero in all of us," she says. "And that means that superheroes don't have to be straight white guys. They could certainly be super heroes, too. We'll let them stay. But let's see people who have different gender identities, and sexual orientations, and faith communities."
She continues, "Let's see superheroes who use wheelchairs, let's see superheroes doing everything, because there's a superhero in all of us."