Review: Not Your Sidekick C.B. Lee
Title: Not Your Sidekick
Author: C.B. Lee
Genre: LGBT Fiction, Superheroes, Love and Romance, F/F
Publisher: Duet Books, an imprint of Interlude Press
Pages/Word Count: 294 pages
Blurb: 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, who 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.
For my first book review I am delighted to be able to review something I enjoyed so much. Not Your Sidekick is a smooth read with characters who hit the likeable zone between being overly self-involved and unrealistically altruistic. I know enough about the world that I can tell what is happening and why without being drowned in irrelevant details. The plot had some twists and turns that made sense without being painfully obvious long before they happened. I did have some problems with the use of the first person present tense. That’s a personal preference.
The main character is the daughter of two superheroes: minor and local heroes. She is also a first generation Vietnamese American and bisexual. I’m not fond of the common bias that in order for a book to have universal appeal it must have a protagonist who is as close to the unmarked state of being a non-ethnic male with no discernable culture. We honestly don’t experience our own lives as generic or at the default state, especially when we are teenagers. The protagonist’s struggles to understand her identity as Vietnamese American which is not American enough for some people and not Vietnamese enough to other people feels universal. We all face the stress of trying to fit into standards that honestly don’t reflect the complexity of our identities. The struggle of being both proud of but embarrassed by one’s relatives is something I’ve heard from everybody.
A large part of the story deals with her expectations about what it means to be ordinary and what it means to be extra-ordinary. This is a theme that will speak strongly to the current generation. What happens when you try as hard as you possibly can but you still can’t achieve what you intend to do? How do you rebuild who you are when you fail short of your parent’s expectations?
This book is strongly in the tradition of Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen. As the character learns more about her world she learns that sometimes there aren’t easy choices between what is good and what is safe. That the history you get taught in school doesn’t fit with your own lived experience. That the people you once trusted might not be worthy of that trust. Sometimes the people you think are your enemies are the ones who have your back. And that sometimes love comes from the last person you’d expect.
C.B. Lee’s Not Your Sidekick (978-1-945053-03-0) is available September 8, 2016 from Duet Books, the Young Adult imprint from Interlude Press. Her previous book Seven Tears at High Tide is also available. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
C.B. Lee is a bisexual writer, rock climber and pinniped enthusiast based in California. She is a first generation Asian American and has a BA in Sociology and Environmental Science, which occasionally comes in handy in her chosen career, but not usually. Lee enjoys reading, hiking and other outdoor pursuits. Her first novel, Seven Tears at High Tide, was published by Duet Books (Interlude Press) in 2015 and named a finalist for two Bisexual Book of the Year Awards. Ms. Lee was also named to Lambda Literary’s 2016 Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices.
About the Reviewer
John Allenson is a pen name for someone who has a horribly insulting real life name he does not use on social media. He has had a long process in trying to be an author but may actually be making some progress. He’s a gender-queer Jew who lives in Toronto.