Rating: 4 stars
Series: The Sidekick Squad, Book 1
Genres: YA, LGBT, Fantasy, SciFi
Reading Challenges Met: 1 (Asian author: Chinese/Vietnamese); 3 (many intersectional characters, main character is of Asian intersectional identity)
One of the overarching goals/challenges of this Readathon is to read books written by different Asian ethnicities. As the first book I read was written by a Japanese person, I decided to go for a different Asian ethnicity this time (Chinese/Vietnamese).
This story is about a girl, Jess, who has resigned herself to live in a world full of superheros and supervillains with no powers of her own. Finally admitting to herself that she’s normal (that is, without powers), Jess applies for an internship as a way to set herself apart from the rest and to look good on her college applications. This internship ends up being for the supervillain of her city. Add to that her crush also works at the lab and a budding friendship/attraction with the mysterious “M”, and the internship is more interesting than Jess expected.
Overall, this book had a healthy dose of LGBTQ+ representation. I believe that this representation was wonderfully written as it did not marginalize these characters or make it seem as if they were out the outskirts of society because of their sexuality or gender identity. It prominently showcased bi, gay, lesbian, and trans characters.
To me, the romances shown in this story were well written. They were believable for teenage romances, each character acting the way I believe a character would when it comes to dealing with insecurities and jealousy.
Lee also did an amazing job at writing about trying to find your place when you feel like you’re not enough, the way Jess does for most of the book. Right from the beginning it’s obvious that Jess feels like she’s not good enough to be a part of her family and the reader really gets to see her growth as a person on this (and other issues) throughout the book.
I believe that this is a great opening book to the series as it really captured my attention. The plot was engaging and intense, I never felt like the plot was dragging on or too slow. As well, a lot was packed into this book without making things feel rushed. If you’re a person that enjoys reading about super humans, and you’re not against reading about teenagers, this would be a good book for you.
While it was an obvious plot point, I really enjoyed the Abby/”M” arc of the story. My favourite part might have been when “M” told Jess to ask Abby out. Sure Jess wasn’t sure if Abby was into her, but Abby was doing her darnedest to show Jess that she was interested. Even outside of the workplace, Abby made a conscious effort to spend more time with Jess. She began eating lunch with Jess and her friends, she offered to drive Jess to and from work every day after school, and she even asked Jess to work on a school project with her. It was a really cute romance and Jess’ obliviousness was perfect for a character that’s a high school student.
I also enjoyed the fact that Abby’s parents were the town’s supervillains while Jess’ parents were the town’s superheros. It was also nice to see that this fact didn’t deter the two from wanting to be together. Abby even laughed when it finally sunk in to her.
Speaking of supers, I found it really interesting that Bells was Chameleon all along. While I had a suspicion when Emma first swooned over Chameleon and Bells was upset (having a huge crush on her and everything), it was nice to be vindicated. It was also really nice that Lee placed little hints throughout the story like Bells changing his hair colour all of the time and having it grow 2 inches over night. And by the way, who would get hair extensions that were only 2 inches long? Is that just crazy to me?
Anyways, I can’t wait to see Emma and Bells get together later on in the series. It was really sweet seeing how much Emma fretted over Bells when she thought he was dating someone and keeping it a secret from her and Jess. I think they’d be an adorable couple, if the flirting in this book is any indication as to how the rest of their relationship would be like.
It was also refreshing to see Bells/Chameleon get over his mistaken nations of the Guild and agree to help Abby and Jess save Abby’s parents. While it sucks that it took Jess showing Bells her recently acquired lightening scar (how did she survive this, by the way?) I’m glad that Bells didn’t just brush off what the girls were saying. It shows that Bells really is the kind of friend that you’d want to keep around.
What wasn’t refreshing, though is to be expected based on the way she acted through the rest of the story whenever she popped up, was Claudia’s reaction to the situation. Instead of being the kind of big sister that Jess had glorified her to be in her head, she ended up being extremely corrupt. I’m sure that having a lot of power and responsibility at a young age is hard to deal with, especially when you’re just trying to help out the person you look up to, but Claudia is one corrupt individual. Sticking Abby with the serum that blocked off her powers was pure evil. I don’t care that she considers herself to be a “hero”, anyone who is willing to do something like that to another human being is a villain in my books.
It was nice to see that Abby and the crew were able to at least successfully rescue one of her parents. While they weren’t able to rescue her dad, I can’t imagine how relieved she was after finding her mother mostly alright. I know that they’re never going to give up finding her dad, and I wouldn’t want them to, but at least Abby was able to be reunited with one of her parents.
Speaking generally about powers, it was interesting to see the breakdown of powers in this world. Ranking powers based on how long you can use them before needing to recharge was an interesting idea to do it. Usually stories will rank powers based on the abilities themselves. As well, Lee was smart by introducing a drug that allowed a super to prolong the usage of their powers.
My favourite power that was shown would probably be Bells’. I wish I had the power to change my hair colour every day! I’d never get bored of my hair that way or have to deal with another bad hair day. I also enjoyed the fact that he never thought about using his powers for evil, even when presented with the opportunity to do so.
Jess’ powers were unique and it took me a while into the story to figure out what they actually were. Was it just me that thought that she’d have to have powers of her own even though she crossed off every known power already? Either way, having a tracking ability would be so useful. I wish I could find whatever I was looking for, I’m pretty good at loosing and forgetting things. I have to admit that I was confused as to why Jess randomly decided to go to the longer line in the cafeteria for tater tots, but the payoff was worth the weirdness of that scene initially.
Finally, I thought it was wonderful the way that Lee worked in the title of the book to the plot. Jess was constantly trying to live up to her older sister and get out of Claudia’s shadow. I’m sure that she did feel like her sidekick throughout most of her life. I’m glad that Jess turned Claudia down when she suggested Jess work for her in the lab. Can you imagine Jess helping torture the supers that were trapped there? Because I can’t. It really was Jess’ breakthrough moment when she realized she didn’t have to keep living in Claudia’s shadow, that she was a full person all on her own. As a younger sister myself, I can definitely relate to feeling this way at different points throughout my life.
I’ll definitely be continuing on with this series as I believe Lee did a great job in creating the world and characters. I’m interested in seeing how the crew will deal with the fallout of the first book and how they’ll get Abby’s dad back. As well, I’m interested to see whether Claudia will remain evil throughout the whole series or if she’ll eventually see the error of her ways. Oh, and I’m definitely reading to see Bells and Emma get together.