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Black Widow: Forever Red Is the Marvel YA Adaptation You’ve Been Waiting For

Now THIS is a party. For your eyes.

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As soon as it was announced that Marvel was planning to extend their sphere of influence into the YA novel realm, we were all about the news—especially once we learned that their first venture was going to feature the Black Widow herself, Natasha Romanoff. 

Black Widow: Forever Red, by Margaret Stohl (who you may know as author of the Idols series and co-author of the Caster Chronicles), takes place as a part of the MCU—with events both prior to and in the aftermath of the infamous Battle of New York.

After the victory over the Chitauri, the Avengers are suddenly thrust into the spotlight, and have to deal with both the benefits and the downsides to their newfound celebrity. (In Forever Red, people are just as likely to have a poster of Thor on their bedroom door right next to the members of One Direction. Tony Stark, true to form, embraces the attention wholeheartedly.)

Unlike most of the other Avengers, being famous doesn’t exactly work when you’re used to flying under the radar—and that’s what Black Widow has been trying to balance even while she’s still going out on missions for S.H.I.E.L.D. Unfortunately, as she soon discovers, there’s a lot left in her past that is only just beginning to resurface—like her life of training in the Red Room under her sadistic teacher, Ivan Somodorov, whom Natasha suspects of sinister involvement once children around the world start to go missing.

This isn’t just Natasha’s story, though. In Forever Red, her narrative is intricately (and perhaps fatefully) intertwined with Ava Orlova, a teenage girl who was subjected to Ivan’s brutal experiments as a young child before she was rescued by Black Widow and placed under the protection of the U.S. government. Ava has made multiple attempts to contact her rescuer over the years, watching Black Widow and the other Avengers get catapulted into the spotlight after saving the world from outside forces, but has never received so much as a text in reply—until one fateful day reunites the two, and they realize that they may have to work together to stop Ivan once and for all.

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If you had a chance to get your hands on a copy of Mockingbird: S.H.I.E.L.D. 50th Anniversary #1, you likely already know that this is the issue in which we are also introduced to the character of Red Widow. Stohl takes the origin story and expands on it tenfold in this novel. We learn exactly how Red Widow comes to be, and how it is a role that completely differs from that of her predecessor—because it is a role that she chose, rather than a moniker that was thrust upon her.

For while Natasha may remain as mysterious as ever throughout most of this book, we get an up-close-and-personal glimpse into Ava’s life. To the outside observer, she appears to be a normal teenage girl. She has hopes and dreams and things that she’s passionate about—not to mention a crush on a boy. But there’s also some parts of herself that she can’t explain—like why she happens to be a natural when it comes to fencing, or why the boy she has a crush on is someone she’s only been able to see inside her dreams. And her relationship with Natasha is definitely more complicated than rescuer and rescued—let’s just say she doesn’t exactly think of Black Widow as a hero.

Black Widow: Forever Red feels like a natural extension of the Marvel universe; it’s fast-paced, clever, bittersweet and thoroughly engrossing. (I was fortunate enough to get a copy of it just before I had to hop on a five-hour bus ride, so I was able to enjoy some long spans of uninterrupted reading time—which was fortunate for me, because this proved to be near-impossible to put down.)

The best and most exciting thing about this book is considering how it will allow Marvel to bring more stories to fans in a new way through young adult fiction. The potential to explore new characters—or even the backstories of those we already know and love—is enormous. By the time I was finished reading Forever Red I was desperately flailing at the universe to bring me some kind of sequel. Someone out there must like me because it was announced on Sunday at NYCC’s Women of Marvel panel that Stohl will be penning the follow-up!

If you’re a fan of strong female characters, thrilling spy narratives, found families, a dash of romance with your YA or merely want to spend an afternoon curled up with Black Widow as she scrubs some more red out of her ledger, you can’t go wrong with Black Widow: Forever Red.

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