Not Your Sidekick, by C.B. Lee
Cover and Illustrations by: C.B. Messer
Publisher: Duet (Interlude Press)
Release Date: September 8, 2016
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship only it turns out to be for the town s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious ‘M,’ who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.
Villains who are not what they seem
I knew right away from the description I was going to enjoy this book, and have been eagerly anticipating reading Not Your Sidekick for months. Superheroes, mistaken identities, a charming f/f romance? How could I resist! I knew I was going to love this book when, not long into the first chapter, we’re introduced an adorable, bumbling, helper robot. Yes, I thought, this book gets me.
Jess Tran wants nothing more than to be a superhero – her parents are the local heroic team, her sister the newest rising star at the League of Heroes, even her seemingly non-powered little brother has a supergenius intellect – but Jess is nearly seventeen, and shows no signs of being a meta-human; she is destined never to be ‘special’. This could be the beginning of any number of teenage superhero stories, and that’s honestly part of the appeal, because the themes of growing up, wanting to find your place in the world, of feeling special, are universal and timeless. What makes Not Your Sidekick different is the multicultural cast of characters in this comic book drama, and the representation of marginalised identities for this universal theme.
Jess is a wonderfully sympathetic and relateable protagonist, and I often found myself smiling and nodding along with her awkwardness, her earnest desire to do good, and of course her amusingly terrible attempts at flirting. Abby, the object of her affections, is no mere passive love interest and their relationship unfolds in such a sweet and heart-warming way. While the actual ‘secret identity’ reveal was obvious right from the start, there were still plenty of other little mysteries to uncover that make up for the fact it was never really secret at all. The story is rather light on plot but there’s depth to be found in the small moments, rather than grand battles – Jess feeling like an outsider even when among other immigrants, the way the reader gradually learns about the history of this post-apocalyptic world. Also there are cute beeping robots. The ending does feel slightly rushed, almost as if the decision to expand the story into a series was decided at the last minute, but it’s a minor quibble to be found in this otherwise delightful book.
I can’t begin to articulate how important this story would have been to me if it had existed twenty-five years ago, when I was thirteen and loved comic books and science, and felt so alone. An exciting adventure where teenage girls were allowed to build robots and save their friends, and fancy boys and girls. And it was all okay. I’m so glad Not Your Sidekick exists now, and hope it will help inspire young people to feel like they can do, and be, anything.
C. B. Lee is a bisexual writer, rock climber and pinniped enthusiast based in California. Lee enjoys reading, hiking and other outdoor pursuits. Seven Tears At High Tide is a first novel.
You can find her online at http://cb-lee.com/
You can purchase Not Your Sidekick from:
Barnes & Noble
The Ripped Bodice (Signed Copies!)
I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.