Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a YA LGBTQ-friendly superhero novel that kicks off a three book series from CB Lee. NOT YOUR SIDEKICK is set in the US, a little over a century into the future, when superheros and villains take center-stage in the world…and Jess isn’t very super.
Check out the excerpt and be sure to enter the $25 GC and book giveaway below!
About the book:
Welcome to Andover, where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain.
On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, whom Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.
How about a little taste?
His eyes glowing, he stands in the doorway. Master Mischief’s mechanical armor clanks as he steps into the room. The faded “M M” logo is blistered in purple paint on his chest.
Jess’ brain stutters. Has he figured out her parents’ secret identity? Is this is a kidnapping? A ruse to draw her parents out? She steps back and grabs for the pepper spray in her backpack, but that’ll be little help. Mischief is blocking the only exit.
He’s not an A-class villain, but Jess has never met any villain in the flesh. Despite all the funny T-shirts and silly videos of Mischief, and despite Jess’ arguments that some of what he does isn’t villainous at all, it’s hard to shake off years and years of seeing villains do terrible and destructive things in the news.
And now a villain stands in front of her; his electronic suit crackles with power.
Mischief can manipulate tech, but what is he’s doing here, in the heart of Monroe Industries? He’s certainly in his element. Anything electronic that isn’t too complicated, he can manipulate and control for a limited time. Jess has seen him direct cars to rebel against their owners and reprogram traffic lights and signs and computers.
Jess swallows and stands her ground. He’s silly. He mostly does harmless pranks. He’s ridiculous, not scary.
But it’s one thing to casually joke about villains and another to see one in person.
“I know we were deliberately vague in the job listing and interview, but I hope you understand why we needed the utmost discretion,” Mischief says. The voice is a little different than what she remembers, but that could be her imagination. It’s more electronic—is that a thing?
“Master Mischief?” Jess asks.
Mischief tilts his head; he almost fills the doorframe. But Mischief is quite a few inches shorter than Mistress Mischief, and the difference is always exaggerated in the comics.
He looks taller than Jess, and the suit—she can see black fabric at the knees under the metal armor, as if it doesn’t quite fit. And the logo is old, too; this version of the suit hasn’t been seen for at least a year. “What’s going on here?” Jess asks. “Why do you have Master Mischief’s mecha-suit?”
“Ah, I see you figured that out. I’m M, by the way. Nice to meet you.”
“Who are you?” Jess demands. “Do you actually work for Monroe Industries?”
“I’m not Master Mischief, that’s for sure. But yes, he works for Monroe Industries, and I do too. I was his assistant—am his assistant. He’s busy at the moment, and I’m running his lab in the interim.” M folds his arms and tilts his head and lights flicker without a discernible pattern on his helmet’s front panel. “You can laugh now. Villains need jobs too.”
Jess doesn’t laugh. It makes sense, actually. Mischief’s power of technological manipulation would be incredibly handy here; if his meta-powers weren’t low-level he’d be a formidable and almost unstoppable villain. As it is, he can’t use his powers for longer than probably twenty minutes at the most before he has to recharge, just like her parents. “If you’re his assistant, why don’t you have your own suit? What do you do exactly? And is this internship with Monroe Industries or with you and Master Mischief?”
M shakes his head, and makes a noise that almost sounds like a laugh before it is garbled into electronic static.
“I’m wearing an old prototype of his suit because we’ve been incredibly busy working on other projects. New mecha-suits aren’t a priority right now. And yes, you will be working for Monroe Industries, in a subsidiary with special interests. If that’s something you’re still interested in?” M asks.
“This isn’t a kidnapping, is it?”
The panel on M’s helmet blinks various shades of orange, and he throws up his hands. “No, no, absolutely not,” M says. “We wouldn’t kidnap you, do you—do you want to leave?”
Jess has grown up in Andover, a smallish town in the Nevada desert, several hundred miles from what remained of Los Angeles, after the Disasters and World War III are just stories in history books. Nearly 100 years ago, when humanity was still fighting to survive, there was a series of large solar flares that caused cataclysmic events, and generated the first generation of meta-humans, humans with super posers, of any type.
Some, like Jess’ father and elder sister Claudia, could fly, some, like Jess’ mother, had super strength. But the degree of “super”-ness wasn’t consistent. Like, Jess’ father can fly for about an hour before he needs to rest and recharge his strength, while Claudia can fly for several hours without fatigue. Jess’ parents were refugees from Asian countries who emigrated to the North American Collective years ago–and were welcomed due to their meta-human status.
Jess, well, she can’t to anything super. She’s tried, and tried to determine if she has any recognizable power, but she’s sure that’s not the case, and with her 17th birthday looming, she’s sure none will surface. Being a Meta-Human and training to help others is Jess’ ambition, and without any trace of powers that seems impossible to occur. So, she decides to give up wishing for powers and look for a job. She’s hired as an intern at Monroe Industries, where they make MonRobots–personal helpers in the home, like Roombas with Artificial Intelligence–so they serve as housepets, too. Only the very wealthy can afford actual pets in these times.
Jess has two close friends, Emma and Bells–who is trans–and she has a crush on the beautiful Abby. Though Jess identifies as bisexual, she’s never dated anyone, and has been attracted to Abby for two years…in secret. Imagine her delight/dismay when it turns out Abby is also interning at Monroe. While working with the mecha-girl, “M” who is her supervisor and an assistant to the C-class villian Mister Mischief, Jess gains a new insight into the hero/villain feuds that loom within the North American Collective–the governmental agency covering the populace within what remains of the US. Jess now notices all the superhero fights seem choreographed, and the villains/heroes seem…off. Plus, she’s noticing inconsistencies in her NAC-monitored e-textbooks and NAC-controlled holonews. Villains are seemingly missing, but never reported captured or incarcerated. Where are they? Jess had already wondered, as her parents had a duty to defend Andover from the nefarious shenanigans of Mister and Mistress Mischief–but no one had seen the fiendish duo in months…
While Jess works for M, she also develops a closeness with both M and Abby, and that’s a lot more delightful. They make a great team, and spend hours building a friendship, though Jess fears letting her attraction become known and chasing Abby away. Little does she suspect Abby and M are very much the same. Also, Jess enjoys the idea that she may be helping her parents’ nemesis’ as she feels very much left out of the super loop. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the “Heroes” arent’ doing very heroic things, and there’s a vast conspiracy in the NAC–using the heroes–to destabilize power in adjacent parts of the world. It’s also clear that the “villains” might be prisoners of the system, and subject to inhumane experimentation. This is a nightmare scenario, and it seems Jess’ sister Claudia might be in the mix.
This was an engaging read. Jess is an ordinary girl, wishing to be “more” and she strives to find how she could be helpful, useful, to humanity. Her friendships with Emma and Bells are sweet, and her growing relationship with Abby proceeds cautiously. Expect some kissing and not much else. That said, there’s all the emotional highs and lows of crushes, and first love. Plus, there’s the whole superhero intrigue, and a government plot that’s up to the kids to unravel and reveal. I really enjoyed the world-building here, and this dystopian futurescape was really well-described and considered. The romance is a significant part of the story, but the same importance and careful attention is given to the mystery and the adventure. Jess learns that she does have some powers, and that she’s not destined to be a sidekick, but an equal in a real partnership–with Abby. I also loved that Jess is Chinese-and-Vietnamese, and her compelling experiences as “other”–not being Asian enough/white enough…which is an unique conundrum that I generally enjoy exploring.
The book ends with a comfortable resolution; not all the plot threads are tied tight, but what remains is clearly the larger plot arcs regarding the government conspiracies regarding meta-human tracking and imprisonment. Years of testing have resulted in serums that can enhance or remove a meta-humans powers, and the stage is set for some real family drama–and battles–to come. It’s billed as a three book series, and I can’t wait to read the next installment. Due to the “superhero” aspect of the plot, expect some charming comic-type art within the book, as well.
Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 GC to Interlude Press, or one of FIVE e-books of NOT YOUR SIDEKICK.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!
About the Author:
C.B. Lee is a bisexual writer, rock climber, and pinniped enthusiast from Southern California. A first-generation Asian American, she is passionate about working in communities of color and empowering youth to be inspired to write characters and stories of their own. Lee’s debut novel Seven Tears at High Tide was published by Duet Books in 2015 and named a finalist in the Bisexual Books Awards. This summer, C.B. was named to Lambda Literary’s Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices.