Landing an internship in a psych lab at Gotham University is Harleen Quinzel’s first step to getting a full scholarship to college and getting the hell away from her abusive father once and for all.
But it turns out the path to Big Scientific Discovery and girlbossing her way through college is also paved with sexism, mysognyny . . . and murder?
Harleen isn’t entirely surprised to see the way women (both professors and students) are treated in Gotham U’s STEM departments. But she also knows someone has to speak up and, well, no one has ever accused Harleen of being too quiet.
Joining up with a vigilante girl gang called the Reckoning seems like a great way to lean into her own chaotic nature while also fighting back against harassment, assault, and injustice on campus. Until what starts as a series of conscientious pranks leaves one member of the Reckoning dead and Harleen as both a potential suspect and target.
Working with the remaining members of the gang, Harleen will have to act fast to find the culprit before anyone else gets hurt. But with so much at stake, Harleen isn’t sure justice is enough. She might have to risk her future at Gotham U to try and get revenge in Harley Quinn: Reckoning (2022) by Rachael Allen.
Harley Quinn: Reckoning is the first book in Allen’s trilogy that explores the origin story of everyone’s favorite unhinged villain (no, not the Joker). It is also the latest installment in the DC Icons series which reimagines classic DC comic characters as teens in YA novels. Harleen’s first person narration is as chaotic as fans of her character would expect filled with frenetic tangents, righteous anger, and an abiding love of science. Allen expertly teases out Harleen’s quirks and personality to create a complex and nuanced character whose penchant for mayhem makes it hard to know how far to go when fighting for what she believes in. Harleen and her female love interest in the story are white, there’s a lot of diversity among the supporting cast and thoughtful discussions about the income barriers Harleen and other characters face while contemplating college options.
Harleen’s story is steeped in Allen’s own experiences as a woman in STEM and real instances of sexism and discrimination faced by female scientists (all detailed in an author’s note at the end of the novel). The story plays out on dual timelines with the present where Harleen is at the center of a murder investigation and flashbacks to the genesis of the girl gang. Harleen’s snappy narration and short chapters with suspenseful endings move this story along and make what could be a long read (464 pages in the hardcover) feel like a breeze.
While Harleen manages to stay on the right side of the law for most of this story, readers familiar with her character will catch numerous nods to her future villainous self including references to her costume preferences and more.
Harley Quinn: Reckoning is a fun introduction to the girl who will become Harley Quinn that delivers a satisfying mystery with plenty of feminist themes; a great introduction for readers unfamiliar with Harley and the Batman universe but also a welcome return for the fans.
Possible Pairings: The Supervillain and Me by Danielle Banas, Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo, Don’t Cosplay With My Heart by Cecil Castellucci, Super Adjacent by Crystal Cestari, The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune, Batman: Nightwalker by Marie Lu, Renegades by Marissa Meyer, Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente and Annie Wu, Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan and Deborah Biancotti