It has been a good summer for fun-loving, ass-kicking Asian American superheroines, and if you’re not already, get on board for C.B. Lee’s Not Your Sidekick. Its biggest flaw? Being the first in the series, leaving us on the edge waiting to find out what happens to Jessica Tran (I did not realize I was getting myself into a cliffhanger until I was off the cliff and there were no pages left).
Jessica is the daughter of mid-class local heroes, but she doesn’t seem to have inherited any powers. Living in the 22nd century after World War III and the emergence of a hero gene, Jess is just your average teenager. You know, who ends up getting caught in the middle of some high-level secrets involving the Heroes League and the Villain Guild, all while falling in love and dealing with some intense family drama. Not Your Sidekick is a compelling teenage superhero love story and is a joy to read.
Anxious about college and resigned to not having superpowers, Jess applies for and lands a great internship, where she works beside her long-time crush Abby. But then there’s also her mysterious co-worker “M” who walks around in a robotic suit. As Jess starts to unearth the secrets of her job, she also gets caught up in a larger conspiracy, learning new information about her parents, her sister who is also superhero, and naturally, her own capabilities. Naturally weaved in to the larger epic-type narrative are bits about immigrant life, authenticity and being Vietnamese, and young love. If the epic narrative begins to show itself early on (no jarring surprises), these moments of heart and growth keep the novel interesting and fresh.
I look forward to seeing what the next two books in the series bring for Jess, her girlfriend, parents, and sister.