If you’re at all interested in super heroes, complexity, and diversity, put down what you’re doing and pick this up. I own two copies. Yes, that may have been because I forgot mine in Germany and my library doesn’t own a copy and so I needed to order a new one. BUT having just finished this, I am so glad I have two. So you probably need at least one.
It seems like almost everyone is special in some way in Jessica’s town. I guess you might feel like that, if your parents were super heroes, your sister was a rising metahuman, and your brother was a super genius. Everyone seems to be super except Jess. But what can you do? All Jess can do is focus on scoring the perfect paid internship to put on her resume. Opportunity strikes and she is accepted at a mysterious corporation which just happens to be run by the infamous town super villain. It’s not all bad though. She gets to work next to her crush, Abby, and is friends with her enigmatic fellow intern “M”. However, nothing is ever easy and what starts out as a simple internship, turns into a plot that will destabilize the entire society and make Jess question everything she thought she knew.
So many things struck me about Not Your Sidekick and even days after finishing, I still feel like I’ve been hit by a truck of massive proportions – in a good way! What do I pick to talk about first? Lee does a phenomenal job with the world building from the food that the characters eat to the technology. The beauty is in the details and Lee serves up. From a ‘picture of a future society’ this is completely fascinating to read. (Plus I am such a sucker for books that include future technology in a thoughtful way! I also loved seeing them talk about our technology from that futuristic perspective).
But what I loved the most was the diversity of the characters. Our main character, Jess, is a Vietnamese-Chinese American (although the whole America and world country thing is pretty complex so that’s pretty difficult to say) who is bisexual. But it never feels like a tokenization and it only gets more nuanced. What really resonated with me is Jess’ experiences with her ethnicity, being removed from her parents culture and struggling trying to fit in. Her inability to fit into either side of her biculture resonated with me and this feeling of never measuring up. Jess is such a precious character because she is compassionate, funny, and heartwarming.
What I really appreciated about the book was the way Lee complicates the traditional super hero/super villain narrative. Nothing is black and white and Lee comments on this in an insightful way. We are encouraged to think beyond what we see and what we consume. There were so many details in this exploration of good versus evil that were nuanced. They reflected the ways we have preset narratives in mind that erase the details between our heroes and villains – who are often so closely intertwined. I just need everyone to read this book so we can all talk in depth about this aspect because it is just so refreshing and wonderful to read.
There are very few plot twists that you don’t see coming, Lee hints at them pretty hard, but they are still such a joy to read. In terms of romance, one of the examples where it’s pretty easy to tell, was so emotional to see it play out. While you can definitely tell, there is a curiosity, innocence, and plenty of blushing moments that will make you swoon.
That ending has so much promise for the sequel and I’m so glad I waited to read this until I already had the sequel in hand to dive straight into. At the heart of Not Your Sidekick is this inherent desire we have to be our own person – outside of our gender, family, and the black and white narratives that exclude our intricacies. It celebrates the need to live our truth and to fight our way out of other’s shadows to walk on our own.
Who is your favorite superhero?
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