We Can Be Heroes

Read author Rio Youers's exclusive guest post about the unlikely hero in all of us, and then make sure to sign in and comment below for a chance to win a copy of his upcoming supernatural thriller, The Forgotten Girl!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that most of us didn’t disarm a nuclear weapon today. Likewise, we didn’t parachute out of a burning helicopter or get into a knife fight with an army of muscle-packed henchmen.

Or maybe—depending on the book we’re currently reading—we did.

In a recent interview, Lee Child said that there was an element of wish fulfillment involved in the creation of Jack Reacher—an empowering response to the vulnerabilities of everyday life: to see the world through the eyes of a character who could walk down any street, day or night, and not feel threatened. As a writer, I can see the appeal. We inhabit our characters. It’s as close to body-swapping as we’ll ever get. So why not swap with a total badass?

In good fiction (and Lee Child gives us very good fiction), the same is true for the reader. I love the vicarious rush of stepping into an action hero’s boots—feeling the bullets zip past my head or the sickening crunch of my fist connecting with some thug’s jaw. Most of us teach or work in construction or sell cars/insurance/appliances, but we get to cast aside our normal lives for the ten or so hours that we’re in the company of our favorite badass, whether it’s James Bond, Katniss Everdeen, or Uhtred of Bebbanburg.

Fiction, at its best, elevates and inspires, and the unlikely hero embodies the fight in us all.

But what about the unlikely hero and the very different (but equally worthwhile) thrill they provide? Isn’t there a greater emotional investment in rooting for someone who isn’t ex-special forces, who hasn’t killed 186 people (and counting), and who doesn’t know the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique?

In short, someone just like us.

The unlikely hero is a recurring theme in my fiction. I’m fascinated with the warrior within and often place my everyday characters in dangerous situations where they have to reach deep—draw on their own limited skill-set—to find a resolve.

This is certainly the case with my new novel, The Forgotten Girl, where my protagonist, Harvey Anderson, finds himself in a world of trouble. In his search for a girl he loves but can’t remember, Harvey goes up against a former US senator (and future tyrant) with formidable mind-control abilities, not to mention the relentless, malevolent thugs he surrounds himself with. This sounds like a job for John Wick—heck, even for Captain America—but Harvey is just a regular guy. He could be your brother, your son, or your old pal from high school. He doesn’t have John Wick’s martial arts or firearm skills. He’s a 26-year-old street performer, a pacifist, and a vegetarian.

At one point in the novel, his dad offers him a gun for self-defense, but Harvey turns it down. “I open windows for houseflies,” he says. “What makes you think I could shoot a human being?”

“What if your life depends on it?” his old man says.

And that’s what attracts me as a writer and a reader: the push. How do we react when we find ourselves stacked against the odds? At what point does the warrior within (we all have one) rise up?

Writing The Forgotten Girl was a serious and wonderful challenge, throwing Harvey into some deeply perilous situations and seeing how far he could go purely on the size of his heart. I was also determined that the “thriller” element not be sacrificed and that the reader experiences the same vicarious rush that they get from a Tom Clancy or Clive Cussler novel. It does, however, elicit a different emotional response—one rooted deeply in empathy.

Take a visual tour of The Forgotten Girl with GIFnotes!

The unlikely hero—not to be confused with the underdog (Rocky Balboa), the reluctant hero (John McClane from Die Hard), the antihero (Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill), or the unsung hero (umm … the cat from Hong Kong Phooey)—has long been an endearing feature in fiction and film. Frodo Baggins is perhaps the greatest example, with his dear old Uncle Bilbo being the second greatest. There’s also Shaun from Shaun of the Dead, Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski, and my personal favorite, Johnny Smith from Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. The list goes on, with the common denominator for these everyday folk being their ability to rise to the occasion—to unleash the warrior within.

And we root so tirelessly for these characters because we see ourselves and the people we love in them. Simply put, we care. The fact that they're so relatable amps the reader’s interest and emotional investment.

But there’s more to it. Fiction, at its best, elevates and inspires, and the unlikely hero embodies the fight in us all. In a world where the rich and powerful can seemingly get what they want and step all over the little guy in the process, we need characters like Johnny Smith and Frodo Baggins to prove that the mouse really can roar and Goliath really can fall. We don’t have to be Natasha Romanoff to fly in the face of evil and come out on top.

Seriously, though–she is a total badass.

We face challenge and adversity every day. I’m obviously not talking about disarming nuclear bombs or parachuting out of burning helicopters. I’m talking about real, human battles that make us no less the hero: the 60-year-old construction worker training for his first marathon; the insurance salesman enduring his fifth round of chemotherapy; the teacher trying to get her pupils to put down their smartphones and pick up a book.

I get a huge kick out of Lee Child’s novels, and the wish fulfillment he talks about extends to his millions of readers. With Jack Reacher, we invariably say, “I wish I could do that.”

With the unlikely hero, we say, “I can do that.”

And it’s true, you know … we really can be heroes.

Heck, we already are.

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of The Forgotten Girl by Rio Youers!

To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

The Forgotten Girl Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2017/05/we-can-be-heroes-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) May 23, 2017. Sweepstakes ends 2:59 p.m. ET May 30, 2017. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


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Rio Youers is the British Fantasy Award–nominated author of End Times and Point Hollow. His short fiction has been published in many notable anthologies, and his novel Westlake Soul was nominated for Canada’s prestigious Sunburst Award. Rio lives in southwestern Ontario with his wife, Emily, and their children, Lily and Charlie.


  1. John Quiring

    Sounds interesting.

  2. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the book.

  3. Vernon Luckert

    Would love to win what looks to be a good read.

  4. Douglass P Abramson

    I’d like to read this

  5. pearl berger

    fascinating and great article. thanks.

  6. ellie lewis

    I would enjoy this captivating novel.

  7. Pearl Berger

    Heroes are in high demand. This book would provide it for me.

  8. Karen Mikusak

    Would love to win!

  9. Alice

    These times call for everyday heroes. Would love to win this one!!!

  10. Margaret

    His concept of “The Push” is an interesting one. In self-defense classes for women the main issue with many women is not reaching what he would call “The Push”: even when being attacked they are still trying to ‘be nice’, non-confrontational and thus don’t fight back. Interesting.

  11. Jane Wright

    Would like to check this book out, sounds different.

  12. Janice

    I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book, I would love to read it.

  13. Carolyn

    Sounds like a great read!

  14. julie hedrick

    Want to win! 🙂

  15. lasvegasnv


  16. Tracy Stonefield-Peters

    Would love to read!

  17. Carl

    Sounds wonderful, thanks very much for the chance to win a copy.

  18. Michael Carter

    I’d love to win.
    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  19. bill norris

    sounds like a good read

  20. Joanne Carty

    Kind of like my heros to be flawed or just a John Doe so would love to read this one.

  21. Kristin Centorcelli

    me me me!!!

  22. susan beamon

    I like all sorts of heros. Not all of them think that they are or were heros. Sure would love to add this book to my library.

  23. Lori P

    Looks to be a real ride. I think many of us would hope we’d be able to rise to the role of unlikely hero if it ever came to that, and in the fear that we might not, it’s affirming to read about one.

  24. Irene Menge

    Real heroes don’t think of themselves as heroes. They just do what needs to be done.

  25. charles j hauser jr

    An interesting question poised by Harvey’s Dad, “What if your life depends on it?” To point a gun at another human being and pulling the trigger to kill. There have been many who answered that question and live with it

  26. Janice Milliken

    Always fun to escape and read about heroes!

  27. Susanne Troop

    Love a good book!

  28. Susanne Troop

    Love a good book!

  29. Jeana

    Thank you for the chance to win.

  30. Daniel Morrell

    sounds like a good one!

  31. Mary C

    Love stories about unlikely heroes.

  32. John Smith

    In the illustration, the skinny dude is cooler than the superhero shadow!

  33. Randy Franco

    Sounds like something I’d dig.

  34. Randy Franco

    Sounds like something I’d dig.

  35. MPR

    Sounds very interesting….would like to read.

  36. Kat Emerick

    Looks like a great read!!

  37. Deb Philippon

    It looks like a very interesting book. Count me in and wish me luck!

  38. Zara Garcia-Alvarez

    I’m also an unlikely hero—a voracious reader, scared at the sound of popping balloons. Still, there is a warrior in all of us, I think, if it comes down to it—when it’s needed.

    I’d be happy to add this book to my personal library. If I can’t be the hero, I can certainly enjoy someone else’s adventures by reading about them.

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  39. Laurent Latulippe

    This looks like a fun read.

  40. vicki wurgler

    book sounds great-love to read it

  41. Catherine Myers

    Sounds great

  42. Carol Lawman

    Thank you! I would love to read this.

  43. Cindy Jameson

    This sounds like an intense read! I would love to read it!

  44. Tammy Little

    sounds good, would like to win and read


    I’m in with Lee Child on this book…so looking forward to reading it.

  46. Caroline Lennek

    The whole idea of living vicariously through an unlikely hero’s eyes is appealing. Thanks for a chance to win your book!

  47. Anita Yancey

    I would love to read this book. It sounds like my kind of story.

  48. Mar

    Out of this world?

  49. Linda A

    No better kind of hero!

  50. Joyce Benzing


  51. Rena

    This looks like an interesting story. Would love to win.

  52. Robert Grieco

    Looks like a book that’s right up my alley!

  53. Jane Schwarz

    You are right, we would all like to think we would be heros if put into certain situations. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of ” The Forgotten Girl”.

  54. Susan Mahaffey

    Hope I win a copy of this book!

  55. Michael Hicks

    Great article, Rio! This book sounds terrific. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the winning copy. 🙂

  56. Maureen Emmons

    I do like the unlikely hero

  57. Patrick Murphy

    Worth reading

  58. Gordon Bingham

    Veary appealing…

  59. Theresa

    this book sounds really good!
    thanks for the chance!

  60. Barbara Fish

    Definitely something I would like to read!

  61. pat murphy

    Sounds interesting .

  62. Mark Reed

    Might I be the lucky one to get to have this on my bookshelf!?

  63. Kimberly Dull

    This sounds fascinating and original.

  64. Joanne Mielczarski

    I’m going to love reading this book.

  65. Kyle Johnicker

    Sounds like a good read.

  66. evanlynn13

    I would love to win this book!

  67. Wanda Johnson

    Sounds like a very good read! Would love to win this book.

  68. AmeK

    If the story is good, I can hardly keep myself from wondering how I’d handle that situation. My imagniation always comes up with a way to slip myself into the story.

  69. AmeK

    If the story is good, I can hardly keep myself from wondering how I’d handle that situation. My imagniation always comes up with a way to slip myself into the story.

Comments are closed.