If you like queer-inclusive stories of scrappy coming-of-age superheroes such as The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune, All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault by James Alan Gardner, and Hero by Perry Moore, you may want to try the Not Your Sidekick series by C.B. Lee. I recently read the first volume, and it’s a fun YA story of longing for superpowers, landing mysterious (but well-paid) internships, navigating first might-be-mutual crushes, feeling like a disappointment to your parents, learning to distrust the government, and just generally missing what’s right in front of your face.
Jess is almost seventeen, and it looks like she’s never going to have superpowers. Most people manifest their powers by their seventeenth birthday, including Jess’ ultra-perfect sister Claudia, but despite testing herself on every potential power she can think of, Jess has got nothing. This would be a bummer even if her parents weren’t low-level superheroes Shockwave and Smasher, even if Jess wasn’t already the mediocre middle child between Claudia and super-genius Brendan. But Jess decides to make the best of it, and looks for an internship instead. She ends up working for a company owned by her parents’ villain nemeses, the Mischiefs, partly because she thinks it’s both rebellious and hilarious to work for her parents’ enemies, but mostly because she’s working with her longtime crush, Abby. Their growing friendship is great, but the longer she works there the more Jess starts to suspect there’s more going on underneath the surface – with Abby, at the internship, in her edited history textbooks, and with her suddenly elusive friend Bells. And where are the Mischiefs, anyway?
I recommend this to fans of The Extraordinaries partly because it’s a similar universe, and partly because Jess is very similar to Nick in her lovable cluelessness. Readers will probably start to suspect things long before Jess does, but they’ll root for her as she figures it all out – especially with Abby. Another great aspect of this book is the thoughtfully-assembled post-apocalyptic universe; the explanations of solar flares, WWIII, and societal restructuring, are plausible and well-sprinkled through the story. Some of the writing and dialogue comes off stilted at times, but the plot and messaging is on point.
The cast of characters, and society as a whole, is heartwarmingly queer-inclusive; Jess, her friends, and the school not only include the LGBTQ individuals, but bigotry is also notably absent in their experiences. All the same, this utopian vision has its share of social commentary – the Rainbow Club at Jess’ school is critiqued as primarily a clique of the school’s gay boys and their friends, which translates to issues in the real world with whose voices are heard and represented in LGBTQ spaces and media exposure. There’s also some racial and ethnic diversity; Jess’ Vietnamese and Chinese heritage is explicitly explored, and Bells’ family owns a Creole restaurant in honor of their Louisiana heritage.
If you want a light-hearted opening to a government-overthrowing superhero saga, don’t miss Not Your Sidekick. This first series installment is available through our Mobius interlibrary loan system, with its sequels through our Rivershare system.