Series: Sidekick Squad #1
Published by Duet Books on September 8, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Own Voices, Diversity, Science Fiction
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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.
I love superheroes and books with Chinese characters, so it was a no-brainer to pick up Not Your Sidekick which was also our Name of the Book Club June book of the month. Spanning a world where superpowers are common, and superheroes and villains rule the streets, the book follows a bisexual Chinese-Vietnamese heroine called Jess in her quest to discover herself. Initially, Not Your Sidekick seems to be a standard superhero story about a girl who is trying to fit in, but upon unpacking the narrative – there are multiple layers at play here.
Not only does she have to cope with the struggles of being biracial, not quite fully fitting into either the Chinese or Vietnamese communities, she is also bisexual, often battling misconceptions from her classmates. Jess’s internal struggles when it came to her identity felt very real and isolating, particularly when she tells her classmate she doesn’t want to join their queer society, and when she buys her favourite Vietnamese food from the corner store. Jess also has to cope with the growing distance between her superhero sister Claudia, and her prodigy genius brother, while she doesn’t really “stand out” herself.
Jess should accept that she doesn’t have powers; maybe she should consider herself lucky that she won’t have to go into the Meta-Human Training Program. But she wants to be a hero, wants to help people.
While most superhero narratives feature powerful heroes who save the world, it was refreshing hearing from someone who didn’t wake up with glorious powers one day. Jess didn’t inherit either of her parents powers, unlike her sister Claudia, and she just wants to hang out with her friends, work at her internship, and hang out with her crush Abby. I loved her supportive, natural friendship with the diversity in her friendship group – her friend Bells is Black transgender, and Emma is a latina. It was also adorable hearing about her crush on Abby, trying to figure out whether she was into girls as well, consulting in a mutual friend to see if she should ask her out. With their banter, easy friendship, and the way they got to know each other – it was so adorable and fluffy and I loved seeing the romance unfold.
I loved the world building of Andover, everyone knows that superheroes exist but people still go on with their everyday lives. Being a hero or villain has now become a career path in Andover, and it was interesting hearing about the system and how people could work on their talents to gain points. The hero class system was also interesting, making sure that the world wasn’t completely overpowered with their presence – from rare A class heroes who have powers that can last for ages, to B class heroes who get snapped up by the Meta-Human Training Program, and C class heroes, like Jess’s parents who have great powers but at short bursts at a time. It was interesting hearing how people were picked for Meta-Human Training, yet others with subtler powers could carry on with their daily lives.
Better not to risk certain rejection and stay in this realm of infinite possibility.
For the most part, I loved how the story unfolded, but the writing was a bit awkward written in third person point of view in the present. Things are happening in the present, but referred to in past tense, so it was kind of awkward to read. Because there was so much happening in the book, I also felt like there were some cliched moments that felt a bit predictable, especially towards the end of the novel.
Not Your Sidekick is an adorable superhero book that tackles multiple marginalisations at once, packaged into one fine story about a girl discovering her own identity and where she fits in. I loved the intersectional diversity featured in the novel, and the adorable f/f romance in the book. Definitely a fun, cute read if you like superheroes!
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Not Your Sidekick is available to be purchased from The Book Depository.