Title: Not Your Sidekick
Author: C. B. Lee
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Series? Yes, 1 of 3.
Do you remember Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson? That series where super powered humans emerge in a post-apocalyptic world, quickly dividing society into factions? Well, I have good news for those who enjoyed it – Not Your Sidekick gives you a similar premise, but filled with a whole lot more of diversity and heart. Although it dresses up in superhero capes and fun action – at its heart Not Your Sidekick is the perfect book for anyone who’s ever felt the yearning to be a part of something more.
Comic book superheroes and supervillains gets a makeover in Not Yout Sidekick. Aside from action sequences and save-the-world type plotlines, we also get an introspective and character centred novel. While the book was extremely fun during its engaging action scenes and exposition, it shined brightest due to the lovable and diverse cast of characters. Alongside with saving the day, Jess and the crew also have to contend with romantic mixed signals, embarrassing siblings, and the difficulties of finding gainful employment without work experience. It’s comic superheroes at their most relatable.
I began reading Not Your Sidekick aware that it had an Asian-American protagonist, thanks to its fantastic illustrated cover. But I was positively gleeful when I realised that Jess is Chinese-Vietnamese (for those who don’t know, I’m full Vietnamese). It’s rare to see an Asian protagonist anywhere in fiction, but it’s even rarer to see one in a SFF. I loved seeing Jess’s respect for her heritage, mingled with insecurities about her mixed background, her grasp of the individual cultures and languages. These uncertainties plagued her just as much as her doubts over her absent superhero powers. My teenage self would have adored this book, and I am so glad to see it’s now available – you can bet that I will be pushing Not Your Sidekick on all the kids I meet from now on.
Aside from Jess, Not Your Sidekick also had a full cast of endearing and memorable supporting characters. I especially loved Jess’s best friends, each unique and have fully fleshed out stories of their own aside from their part in Jess’s tale. The sequel promises to feature Bel, and I can’t wait to get into his story. I also loved Jess’s relationship with Abby – their romance was such a delight in their uncomplicated and mutual adoration for one another. The book also did an excellent job on its portrayal of Jess’s bisexuality, especially in scenes where she interacts with members from their school’s LGBT club. Apart from her peers, I also found Jess’s parents to be such familiar figures – her love and respect for them reminds me of my feelings for my own mother. For me, this book’s cast of characters are just so comforting and familiar, I really loved spending time with them.
Not Your Sidekick also pulls its weight in terms of world building and plot. I really enjoyed seeing the different aspects of Jess’s world, especially the way her country have commercialised superheroes and turned them into celebrities. I can’t wait to learn more about this world, especially given the ominous turn in plot we saw at the end of the novel. Those averse to cliffhangers need not fear, though – as Not Your Sidekick wraps up nicely and would function well even as a standalone novel. However, I can promise that you’ll be clamouring for another opportunity to spend time with Jess and co. by the end of the novel.
Thank you to CW of Read, Think, Ponder for introducing me to this book! If you don’t already follow CW, fix this immediately. She’s crazy talented and always have the most thought-provoking discussions on her blog.
Have you read Not Your Sidekick? Do you have any other recs for Vietnamese protagonists in fiction, especially SFF? I am all ears!