Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee
“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 picked this one up at the start of the year when I was going through a mild superhero phase–I’d found some interesting novels on Amazon and decided to delve a bit deeper into the genre. I hadn’t gotten around to this one until now, though, and I finally read it because the sequel just came out and I was reminded that I had this in my e-book library. (These are the perils of e-books–your TBR pile grows exponentially when you’re not looking, and you have no clue how big it actually is.) Anyway, I breezed through this one in a couple of days and found it to be a pleasant read. It’s most definitely YA, edging a bit towards a slightly younger audience, although the subject matter keeps it firmly in the young adult section.
What gives it the mildly younger feel is some of the writing and plotting. There were some dialogue quirks that didn’t ring quite natural to the reading “ear” at times–mainly characterized with sentences that were a bit stilted or came across as a little flat. Plot-wise, there’s nothing really surprising about this story, and most of the major revelations are ones that most readers will see coming far in advance of the actual reveal. But I’ll also say that those reveals are set up nicely throughout the novel, as you can go back and see the clues being worked into the narrative from fairly early in the book. So the author knows her craft, but I think she just needs to work a bit more at weaving things in so that they don’t stand out quite as much.
With all that being said, though, I did enjoy the book. It’s a quick, lively read with likeable characters and lots of action. Lee put some thought into her worldbuilding and came up with some good solid rules for how things work. Heroes and villains are ranked not by how powerful they are, but by how long they can use their power before needing to rest and recharge. That leaves room for characters to have some really cool abilities but still be considered “less than” others because of how long they can utilize their strengths. Also, I found it interesting that villains don’t necessarily come about because of a bent towards chaos–sometimes they’re steered that way, and then it’s up to them what they do with their powers when they get designated as villains. Andover’s villains, for instance, are mostly just pranksters, never inflicting any real damage or mayhem, although they could if they wanted to.
One of the book’s best aspects is how it includes a wide array of diversity. The main character, Jess, is Chinese/Vietnamese heritage and often uses terms that are (I think) Vietnamese. Her parents are immigrants, and there are some interesting sections where Jess’s mother talks about what it was like to leave her home country forever. There were also some intriguing hints about how Jess sometimes feels like she’s neither Chinese enough nor Vietnamese enough, and although that’s not the subject of this book, I would have been interested to see more of how that plays out. Hopefully that can sneak into the future books in this series.
Jess is also bisexual and one of her friends is transgender. Lee shows the relationships among these characters–both friendships and romances–with realism and candor, not sensationalizing them, but not downplaying them either. They’re just teenagers, and their sexuality and/or gender orientation is just part of who they are. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the novel doesn’t make a big deal out of who they are, nor are those aspects of themselves turned into plot points. That’s not what the book is about, but there are people who are non-straight and non-gender-binary and they deserve to be in stories without having an issue made of their gender/sexuality. Lee does an excellent job of doing just that.
This would be a great book to bring teens to reading via the pervasive love of superheroes in our culture today. I’ll definitely be going on with this series to see what Jess and her friends get up to next.
This book was a personal purchase.
(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)