Book Review: Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee

Notyoursidekick

This book was not even on my radar a couple of weeks ago. I think I just saw it on a pride recommendations list and I’m so glad I decided to pick it up. Another single sitting read that I didn’t want to put down at all.

It’s set in the 22nd century, after WWIII and the world has meta-humans, people with abilities who help the citizens and are considered heroes. Jess is a bisexual biracial Asian teenager from Andover whose parents just happen to be the local superheroes. She feels very lost being in the shadow of her parents, her super powerful sister and a genius younger brother. She also has the feeling of not fitting in with either the Vietnamese or the Chinese community, guilty of not knowing her ethnic languages enough to communicate, and just missing that sense of belonging. She is also hardworking, very organized and an aspiring writer but also an average student. To escape all of this feeling of being a nobody and in an act of teenage rebellion, she decides to take up an internship working for her parents’ nemesis and town supervillains Master and Mistress Mischief.

Abby is a popular, talented and very beautiful girl from Jess’s high school whom Jess has had a crush on for sometime. When they end up working together as interns, Jess is initially tongue-tied and can’t even form coherent sentences while trying to talk to Abby. But slowly they develop a tentative friendship – driving together to work, sharing lunch at school, fixing Jess’s domestic MonRobot, and partnering on a school project. The gradual progression to flirtation and falling for each other is beautiful, sweet and I was just waiting for more.

Jess’s best friends are Emma, a latina teen and Bells, a black trans boy. I adored their dynamic. It was so reminiscent of my own relationships with my friends that I enjoyed reading about these wonderful friends who love sharing food, binge watching TV shows and forwarding cat videos. They understand each other so well and it reflects in the thoughtful presents they get for her birthday. When Abby starts joining them for lunch, their friendship is very organic and I think they all fit together perfectly. Jess’s parents maybe be superheroes, but they also are a little clueless about what Jess is feeling. However, when confronted with some uncomfortable truths, they totally believe and support her. Claudia, her elder sister is an A-class superhero who believes she is superior because she works for the government and is quite dismissive of Jess for not having any powers of her own. The other most endearing characters for me in this book are not even humans, they are Jess’s robot Cha and Abby’s robot Jacks who are just too cute and adorable. I hope they I’ll get to meet them again.

As much as the characters in this book are a delight to read about, I think it’s the writing that really stood out. It’s very easy, lighthearted, I could see almost every twist from a mile away, which is so rare for me, but I think this predictability worked very well for the aesthetic of the story. Every time Jess struggles with something which we have already figured out or Emma is being clueless about Bells obvious crush on her, it was just too hilarious to read. The way it’s written, you feel like it’s silly and entertaining and not to be taken seriously, but simultaneously, the author touches on multiple issues like teenagers struggles with parents expectations, dealing with racism, classism and privilege even in the superhero community, choosing between right and wrong when everything seems gray.

But I think the main conflict of the story seemed the most realistic and relevant to our current world. The idea of government using it’s power and even the media to create a perception in the minds of the citizens that is just a distraction from it’s corrupt practices hit me quite hard. I think that’s something we see everyday, where we are always presented with a picture of the governmental policies but never about their true consequences and the subsequent domino effects. I think this whole subtle commentary was written very well into the story of good vs evil, making us question is a person is truly a villain just because they disagree with those in power and is the government right in silencing it’s own citizens without due process if it thinks that’s necessary to keep the general public happy.

Whether you want a fun YA story about high school kids going on adventures, a superhero vs supervillain tale, a book with the kind of casual acceptance of diversity that you want our future to be, or a book with the underlying theme of perception vs reality in the world – this is the book for you.

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