Not Your Sidekick by C B Lee Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee is a post-apocalyptic YA superhero novel that is equal parts pulpy and meaty.  The ingenious mix of intrepid superhero action and deeper subject matter makes for an exciting read for young and older adults alike.

In 2028 a massive solar flare event instigated a global nuclear meltdown.  The resultant destruction and shortage of resources then spurred WWIII.  Fast forward to about a hundred years after the war and the world looks much different than today.  But humanity has started to reestablish society after the disasters nearly brought about our end. A big help in achieving order once again: superheroes.

The nuclear disaster activates a latent meta-gene in a small percentage of the surviving humans giving them varied superpowers.  Jess’ parents are both superheroes.  So is her sister.  Jess… well she is just an average teenager trying to get through high school and figure out what she wants to do with her life.

When she stumbles upon a vague add for an internship with one of the country’s most powerful technology firms, she figures it’s as good a path as any to take.  The fact that it turns out to be a clerical position for her parents’ arch nemeses, the Mischiefs, well…it’s not like they are evil villains.  They’re more like super pranksters.  And the fact that her crush also happens to work there…well that just seals the deal.  However, the more involved she becomes with the Mischiefs, the more muddled her perceptions on the order of things become.  What constitutes a villain anyway?  It looks like Jess and her friends are soon going to find out!

The Characters

Jess Tran is a Chinese Vietnamese American bisexual teen who is struggling to find her identity and where she fits in the world.  It is a struggle I think most of us have gone through at one point or another but to add to her stress, her world (and family) is also filled with superheroes.  She has constant doubts about whether or not she is enough due to her apparent lack of powers, her bisexuality, her goals, and her heritage. She crushes on a girl in her school but spends much of the book too nervous to approach her about it.  I feel like, barring the superhero component of course, I can relate to having these struggles in my youth and that they are still relatable for young adults today.

Jess’ friends and her crush, Abby, are a gloriously diverse group and have a wonderful, heartwarming dynamic.  It feels so genuine and I love them all.   They have so much depth and such real interactions, it was a pleasure to share this adventure with them.

The Writing Style

I just love the world Lee has created.  It is post-apocalyptic, and survival is still a struggle, but there is also a lot of hope.  Much of that is wrapped up in the emergence of superheroes and I love the way this plays out.  I won’t delve into it too deeply here lest I spoil things, but just say it is light and uplifting on the surface, but there are deeper connotations which makes for an entertaining but also thought provoking read.

The story is told from Jess’ point of view and reads like a comic in many ways.  It’s a quick read though the pacing isn’t what I would call fast.  The writing is simple and could have benefitted from better editing, and the plot is openly predictable.  But I still couldn’t stop turning the pages and finished the book in one sitting.  I was that completely engrossed with Jess and her friends’ adventure.

My Favourite Parts

It has to be the hellafantastic representation.  And in saying that, it’s not just that the characters happen to be bisexual, or transgender, or the children of immigrant refugees.  These aspects aren’t just mentioned in passing.  It is more in terms of how these facets of the characters are explored. The characters are not simply two-dimensional props, rather they are complex and real, and I quickly became enamoured with them all.

And oh my goodness, let’s not forget about Cha, the little robot that could!  I love everything about the AI powered roomba-esque robot.

Heads Up

I don’t have any content warnings but as I mentioned earlier, there are some technical issues that occasionally distracted me from the story.

The Conclusion

Michelle's Favourite BooksStrap on your tights, cape, and mask for this exciting YA dystopian superhero book that is as full of heart as it is full of action.  Not Your Sidekick is entertaining and poignant and just a heck of a great book.  This sets the tone for what looks like an incredible series and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Excerpt from Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

Jess grits her teeth, going for a running start.  The gravel on the trail crunches under her feet, the wind rushes through her hair, and she can taste success.  This time.  This time she’s gonna make it.

The canyon is streaked with color, warm in the afternoon light; golden striations race across the signature rusty reds of the landscape.  The sky is a gorgeous, impossible blue, and clouds flutter down the endless horizon, a perfect backdrop for a first flight.

Every step resounds in her body, and her heart races.  Blood pounds in her ears.


One of the rarest of abilities.  Jess’ dad can fly, and her older sister inherited the gene.  Why not Jess?

Why not me?  I could be a hero, Jess thinks as she picks up speed.

Jess is turning seventeen in a week, and then it will be too late for her to register.  She hasn’t demonstrated any powers at all, not as a child, not as an adolescent, but she’s held out hope.  After all, there are a few documented outliers: teenagers presenting much later, even as old as sixteen.

No one’s presented with any powers after seventeen.

The wind whistles in her ears, and the desert is alive with color, encouraging her on.  Where the trail curves and descends, jess keeps going forward, right for the edge where it peters off into the canyon below.  Time and erosion have split the rock formation, leaving a gap of at least seven feet between the edge and the rest of the rock cluster.

Jess doesn’t hesitate.  She pushes herself forward and leaps into the air.

The desert is silent except for the pebbles that scatter from her movement and tumble into the gap far below.  Jess is in the air, and for a few seconds she can taste the sky reaching out to her, welcoming her –


Jess lands hard on the other side of the gap, falls flat on her cheek.  She spits dust and cringes at the sting on her face.  Her body’s going to ache later.

This is the third jump she’s made today.

Jess rolls over and stares up at the sky.  “All right, so maybe flying’s not going to happen,” she says reluctantly.  She fishes inside her pocket for the list she made of the powers she could inherit from her parents.


Magnetic field manipulation

Enhance strength

Healing factor


She has a longer list too, of all the powers on file with the Meta-human Registrar, but everyone knows that meta-abilities are genetic.  If Jess didn’t inherit any of her parents’ abilities, the possibility of having any abilities drops to near zero.

Jess is covered in dirt and bruised and frustrated, and it’s unlikely that she’s ever, ever, going to be a superhero.

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