Square Books will host author Ladee Hubbard this Tuesday for a reading of her first novel, “The Talented Ribkins.”
In the age of the Avengers-style heroes, Hubbard has created her own family of superhumans, and perhaps the strongest thing about them is their flaws.
Hubbard spent her childhood summers in Florida with family and used her familiarity with the region to create a backdrop for the unconventional superhero novel. Her own family provided some inspiration, but the Ribkins family remains in a class of its own.
“The Talented Ribkins is about a middle-class black Southern family, but that’s saying a lot,” Hubbard said.
She said “The Talented Ribkins” serves as a reflection on W. E. B. Du Bois’ essay “The Talented Tenth” and how the 1903 essay has been interpreted in popular culture.
The parallels to Du Bois’ essay throughout the book aren’t always obvious, but Hubbard’s reaction to Du Bois’ ideas serves as a backbone throughout.
Each member of the Ribkins family has a power unique to him or her, but it’s a power that might not have obvious practical value. The story’s leading player, Johnny Ribkins, can make perfect maps of any space he has walked through, and his half brother can climb any wall. With a father who can see perfectly in the dark and a cousin who can breathe fire, the Ribkinses’ powers aren’t like anything you’ve seen in a summer blockbuster.
We first meet Johnny in the modern day when, at 72 years old, the antique dealer is caught embezzling from his boss. With the clock ticking, Johnny must travel around Florida to find money he hid away decades earlier.
Throughout “The Talented Ribkins,” each character must accept his or her own special ability. Hubbard said the quirkiness of the Ribkinses’ powers forces them to figure out what it means to be the person they are.
“To find value and appreciate [ourselves] as a unique individual and that maybe there is worth to whatever your gift is,” Hubbard said.
Not a single family member has a stereotypical superpower, but they all have the opportunity to enact change in a way Hubbard described as doing the best with what they’ve got. The reader is shown that the beauty of this family lies not in its perfection but its continued quest to do good despite its past failures.
This book manages to tackle some pretty heavy material while never losing its lighthearted tone. The Ribkinses are simple, everyday people who can do some unusual things. Johnny is not a hero, but his continued pursuit of the greater good despite his repeated failings is quite heroic.
“Even if you can’t solve all problems,” Hubbard said. “All individuals are capable of affecting change.”
Johnny’s true power might just be that he keeps trying – no matter his past mistakes, no matter the challenges, he keeps trying.
Ladee Hubbard and “The Talented Ribkins” will be at 5 p.m. this Tuesday Off Square Books.