A fantastic superhero adventure with a bisexual Asian-American heroine and a mysterious conspiracy? Count me in!
~~Here there be spoilers ~~
Basically, Jess is amazing. This is definitely a book to read for characterization and pacing. That was what stuck out to me the most–how quickly I was able to read it and how smoothly all the scenes led into each other. Nothing was too long or too short, and I was always interested in what was going on.
Also, finally, FINALLY a book with a ‘mysterious, deadly conspiracy’ actually delivers! Most of the time with mystery plotlines I am bored out of my mind, mostly because they don’t involve any of the characters I’m interested in. But Not Your Sidekick totally delivers–I was right there with Jess wondering what the heck was going on, poking at the cracks in the facade built up by the superheroes in power. Props to this book for bringing up how often history is rewritten in textbooks!
Unfortunately, obviously M was Abby. The only time this book was frustrating was when it was so clearly obvious that the giant robot suit coworker was always-out-of-breath-Abby. Still, the fact that Jess felt comfortable around M and revealed her thoughts on Abby’s personality(and her butt) was endearing.
The only time when the pacing of this book lost me a little bit was the rushed ending. It seemed too easy that Jess and her friends could just go back to school and live their lives. I wanted a little more fugitive action after they basically gave Captain Orion the biggest of metaphorical middle fingers! However, I am stoked for the next book from Bells’ point of view.
I enjoyed reading about the immigrant experience in this book. Little details like Orion making fun of Jess’s mom’s accent and Jess feeling like she doesn’t speak enough Vietnamese make this book come to life, and really shows the importance of supporting own voices writers.
I loved Jess’s power–it still seems a little broad to me, but I loved it! I didn’t think that she would have a power at all, and it really snuck up on me with the little hints that were dropped. That was very well done.
The sidekick theme with Claudia, however, could have been more developed, especially since it’s in the title. It didn’t pack as much of an emotional punch at the end as it could have. I think if Claudia were more present in the story, that would have been more interesting. Jess had a lot of good memories of her and they communicated a little, but more present-day interactions would have helped that be more of a central theme, and make us feel more torn at the end like Jess was between her sister and her morals.
Maybe my favorite part of this book was Abby’s speech at the end about working hard, and how it’s not about being born with talent, but how you have to practice every day. I wish this had come sooner in the book! It seems like an important lesson for Jess to learn when she thought that she didn’t have any powers. It’s definitely an important lesson for all of us, especially artists.
What we can learn about writing & worldbuilding from this book:
- How can you make your villains endearing/make the conflict personal? In the end, Jess is fighting against her childhood hero and her sister, which makes it much harder for her to decide what’s right than if it were a nameless big bad. How can you bring the antagonist closer to home in order to complicate things for your main character?
- Pacing! Read this book for pacing. Not a single wasted scene, and beautiful worldbuilding. How do technology, pop culture, and public figures interact with the main character in their day-to-day lives?
- Who is your main character’s hero? Is there anything wrong with them? What happens if they meet them?
- Does your main character ever start to question their beliefs? Do they question what they learn in school?
- Conspiracies! How is the public being manipulated? Who does this benefit? How do the people in power maintain that power by controlling how certain people are portrayed in the media?
photo by Lyanne Rodriguez