2016’s Not Your Sidekick is the first of C. B. Lee’s Sidekick Squad series.
A superflare activated the metagene possessed by a minute fraction of humanity, granting them superhuman powers.
World War III nearly made that development irrelevant. Nearly. Despite humanity’s best efforts at removing itself from the board, humans and civilization survived. Life in the North American Collective may all be a bit regimented, but for Jessica Tran it is the only life she knows.
Her hometown Andover may be in backwater Nevada, but it is one of the lucky few to have resident superheroes, Smasher and Shockwave (who just happen to be Jessica’s parents). Too bad that the town also has resident supervillains, Master and Mistress Mischief.
Jessica is the offspring of two people with active metagenes; her sister also has the active metagene. Jessica may well develop superpowers too. But she’s been tested; she has none of the parental abilities. No flight, no super-strength: No other powers have shown up. As far as Jessica knows, she’s as super as a paper bag.
Life as a normal isn’t bad. Jessica has the usual teen distractions, like worrying about her future (what CAN she do for a living?) or working up the nerve to delicately hint to pretty Abby Jones that she is seriously smitten with Abby. All of Jessica’s friends know about the crush (Jessica can’t help sharing) but Jessica seems unlikely to ever confess her feelings to their object.
Then Jessica wins an internship at Monroe Enterprises. She’s thrilled; she’s determined to do a good job. She quashes any qualms she might have about the fact that her new boss is known only as M and wears a suit of powered armour. One of Master Mischief’s old suits of armour. Is M one of the Mischiefs? Nah. Jessica would recognize them. But there must be a connection …
One of Jessica’s co-workers is none other than Abby herself. The two strike up a friendship but Jessica is still too timid to ask Abby out. Instead, she pours her heart out to the masked person she knows as M. As one does.
Jessica never wonders why it is she never sees M and Abby at the same time. Perhaps this is because she is too busy unravelling other mysteries of which she has only recently become aware, mysteries such as:
why is the Collective rewriting historical records?
why are Master and Mistress Mischief missing?
is Jessica’s comfortable world just one big lie?
The North American Collective is run by bigots; it allows bigotry. That’s the reason that the Trans have been consigned to doing their superpower thing in in small-town Andover. None of the A‑lister supers care to associate with Asian supers, especially Asians who don’t have the basic consideration to wear full costumes that would cover up their (shudder) Asian features. The A‑listers are … what is the word? Oh yeah, Dicks.
On the face of it, this is an amiable dystopia. It’s easy to believe that: the news is curated, so that the average person on the street doesn’t know much about the undeclared wars. There are black ops on-going in the shadows, but shadows, you know. Relics of pre-War America are confiscated. For the person in the street, life in the North American Collective is not that bad.
Well, provided they don’t live in a radioactive zone but people generally don’t. Not for long, anyway.
The dystopia also seems to be a wee bit sloppy. Once members of the Associated League of Heroes realize someone has stumbled over their dark secrets, they don’t dispatch a group of A‑listers to Andover to take the place apart until they find the miscreants. Yes, they make threats, but any action seems to set aside for further instalments of the series.
It must be total coincidence that this is the second book I’ve reviewed in the last WEEK in which nobody asks why X and Y never show up at the same time. Also the second book in which lead characters cannot talk to each other about their feelings, which enormously complicates romance. Also the second book in which friends take it upon themselves to facilitate a romance otherwise doomed by refusal to speak.
This book isn’t quite as charming as Kaiju Girl Caramelize but so few books are.