The new Spider-man novel comes out on July 26.
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Getting to tackle a character as iconic as Spider-man is a dream for any writer, and it was no less so for Preeti Chhibber, who features the world's favorite webslinger in her new middle-grade novel Spider-Man's Social Dilemma, which comes out July 26 by Marvel Press (and also made EW's Kid's Summer reading list). The message from Marvel asking her to to write an original Spider-man story was, "the best email I've ever gotten in my entire life!" Chhibber recalls.

Impressed with how she nailed Peter Parker's voice in her Spider-man: Far From Home 2019 tie-in book, Peter and Ned's Ultimate Travel Journal, Marvel gave her a lot of flexibility in crafting the new novel, says Chhibber. "They were really excited to see what I could come up with," she says. "Which was cool, and a little bit surprising."

Set a few months after Peter gets his powers, it's not another origin story nor an MCU-related tale, but a story entirely of Chhibber's own making, centered on Peter trying to balance the demands of being a superhero with more earthbound teenage pressures, including group projects, being late to class, and crushing on his adorable next-door neighbor.

Speaking of Peter's next-door neighbor, MJ gets both chapters told from her point of view and a timely social media-influenced plotline. "MJ having her own storyline and her own importance was a necessity from the beginning," says Chhibber. "The book cannot work without her."

The main thrust of the novel is a mystery involving classic Spidey-villain the Sandman and the possibly alien artifact he's trying to get his hands on. In EW's exclusive excerpt below, Spidey stops what he thinks is a run-of-the-mill burglary only to have his spidey-sense tell him that there is a bigger mystery involved.

Excerpt from Spider-man's Social Dilemma

Spidey crouches on top of a billboard near the Cloisters on the West Side of Manhattan. He's been scoping out the scene for several nights in a row, hoping to find any kind of sign of whatever old rich person is hiding this alien artifact. Unfortunately, that afternoon's fight still has him feeling off. MJ had replied to his text with a thumbs-up and a message that said I'm sorry for being a jerk, let's talk later? He'd immediately responded with Yes! but he hadn't otherwise heard from her all day. He thought about stopping by her house when he got home from the library but cringed at the thought as soon as it crossed his mind. That felt too weird. Who just shows up at someone's house? He remembers they're getting together so MJ can give him some social-media tips later this week and breathes easier. Since she hasn't canceled yet, he figures they're still on. The other day while he was waiting for the train, he set up a SpiderManEnWhySee account, just a little miffed that he couldn't include a hyphen in the screen name.

So far, he hasn't posted anything except a selfie in his suit on top of the Empire State Building. He's giving a peace sign. I can make it to the top of the Empire State Building. It's a humblebrag, but I gotta post it was the totality of his thought process.

To his chagrin, no one is paying attention. His post got three likes and a single retweet. And the person retweeting just said, Wow, this green screen looks fake as heck. His only follower is XXXXXXXXXXX. He remembers MJ's notes about numbers and assumes it's a bot. How am I going to take control of my own image if I can't even get people to notice me? Ugh. The Bugle has fifty million people following them. He makes a mental note to ask MJ how to get followers. As long as she doesn't cancel.

Before he can continue that line of thinking, he hears the sounds of an alarm blaring loudly from somewhere a few blocks south of him. He jumps off the billboard, shooting out a web and propelling himself down the avenue. There are a few people out, pointing at him as he swings by, and he tries to wave and nearly loses his grip.

"AH!" He scrambles, grabbing the line of web. "I meant to do that!" he yells down at the crowd, hoping they didn't notice it and that no one had their cell phone out. The alarms are getting closer and louder, and finally he flies by a side street and sees the source.

There's a small, darkened storefront with a smashed window recessed a few stairs down into the ground. Sirens sound somewhere in the distance, but they're still so far away that Spidey feels fine jumping down to the ground to investigate. It looks like a smash-and-grab gone wrong, except that it's a hardware store, not a jewelry store. The sign above the broken window says WILLIAMS & KIDS, HARDWARE in white paint with a red border. Who's smashing up a window for some spare nails? he wonders. Just then, a bald white head pokes out the door, and Spidey sees a pair of eyes go wide when they notice him standing out front. The figure lets out a quick yelp and scurries back into the store.

"What the—?"

Spidey jumps down over the stairs, sticks his head through the door, and calls out, "Hello? You know I saw you, right?"

Spiderman's Social Dilemma by Preeti Chhibber
Credit: Randy Fontanilla; Marvel Press

The store is a mass of shelves filled with tools and various sundry items. Something big and metallic rattles and then drops heavily to the floor with a loud clank. It's dark, and the alarm is reverberating along the walls and inside Spidey's head. All of a sudden, his spider-sense goes wild, and he tucks and rolls into the shop as two nails embed themselves into the wall where his head had been a second earlier.

"WHOA, WHOA, WHOA!" Spidey yells. "We can figure this out, man! Let's talk!" He crouches next to the wall and slowly crawls up it, careful not to disturb any of the items on the shelf next to him. He can hear something skittering in the back of the shop. He presses his fingers and toes lightly along the wall, moving up until he gets to the ceiling. He hesitates for a moment, and then a second crash spurs him to move onto the ceiling, inching along, keeping track of the floor below him for any movement. He makes it one foot, then two, three, four, five, but the green-and-white tiles below him remain clear.

Finally, about twelve feet from the entrance, he sees a figure crouched behind a group of long-handled paint rollers. He's peeking around the corner, holding a nail gun. Spider-Man puts a hand out and points his web-shooter downward, pressing against his palm. His web hits the nail gun, and he yanks it, flinging it away to the other side of the store.

"NAILED IT!" Spidey yells gleefully before dropping to the floor directly in front of the thief. He's surprised to see it's someone he knows.

"Corey?!" Spidey asks, lenses wide, as the man in question throws a fist his way. He dodges, easily. Corey's a low-level criminal that Spidey's dealt with before—he's usually just a grab 'n' go from a corner bodega, and generally Spidey lets him off with a warning. This sort of thing is very out of character for the minor thief. Spidey bends his head to the left as Corey throws a box of lightbulbs at him. "I thought we were friends. Last time we saw each other, you told me you liked my suit and everything."

Spidey ducks as Corey tries another punch. "Okay, that's enough of that." He crouches and sticks a leg out to trip him, and Corey goes down hard, face-first.

"Man, what are you doing?" Spidey asks, still crouched and resting on his toes next to the man's head. There's a glare on the back of his shiny bald mug.

Corey just groans in response. The sirens are closer now, so Spidey webs Corey's feet to the ground and tries again.

"What are you doing here? This isn't usually your MO. . . ." He trails off and tilts his head, taking in the scene. There's something boxy sticking out of the top of Corey's back pocket. Spider-Man reaches down and pulls it out. "Now what's this?" He stands to see it better in the low light of the shop.

The box reads LOCK PICK-ER 9000—locked out? We're here to help! The price tag on the sticker says 900 next to a monetary symbol he doesn't recognize. Spidey nearly drops it.

"Nine hundred what? Dollars? This must be the best lock-picker on the planet." He squats down next to Corey's head again. "Now what would you, a pretty petty criminal, want with something heavy-duty like this?"

Corey is mumbling something in response, but Spidey can't quite make it out. He ducks closer but shoots back up to a standing position when he finally hears what Corey is repeating to himself.

"Gotta get this and get the lamp. Gotta get this and get the lamp."

He's whispering over and over. He sounds completely terrified. Spider-Man looks at the lock-picking box again and then back down at Corey on the ground, thinking again how he feels about coincidences. He's about to ask Corey more when the sirens turn the corner. That means he's overstayed his welcome. He drops the lock-picker on a high shelf, and then he zips out of the front of the store just as the cop cars slow to a halt.

"Hey!" he hears as he webs a crane and starts swinging, "Come back here!"

Not a chance, he thinks.

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