Author: John David Anderson
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Contemporary/Urban Fantasy, Superheroes, Middle Grade
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Publication Date: June 2013
Hardcover: 384 Pages
With not nearly enough power comes way too much responsibility.
Andrew Bean might be a part of H.E.R.O., a secret organization for the training of superhero sidekicks, but that doesn’t mean that life is all leaping tall buildings in single bounds. First, there’s Drew’s power: Possessed of super senses – his hearing, sight, taste, touch, and smell are the most powerful on the planet – he’s literally the most sensitive kid in school. There’s his superhero mentor, a former legend who now spends more time straddling barstools than he does fighting crime. And then there’s his best friend, Jenna – their friendship would be complicated enough if she weren’t able to throw a Volkswagen the length of a city block. Add in trying to keep his sidekick life a secret from everyone, including his parents, and the truth is clear: Middle school is a drag even with superpowers.
But this was all before a supervillain long thought dead returned to Justicia, superheroes began disappearing at an alarming rate, and Drew’s two identities threatened to crash head-on into each other. Drew has always found it pretty easy to separate right from wrong, good from evil. It’s what a superhero does. But what happens when that line starts to break down?
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel (but could be a series…fingers crossed!)
How did I get this book: ARC from the publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print ARC
Why did I read this book: I admit to having a bit of a crush on Walden Pond Press – their middle grade books range from the beautifully poignant (Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu) to gleeful fun (The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healey). When I learned about this middle grade take on superheroes – another of my favorite things – I immediately gravitated towards it.
Andrew Bean (aka “The Sensationalist”) is a Superhero in training. Well, actually he’s a sidekick in training. Drew is gifted with the superpower of unparalleled senses – his sense of smell, taste, hearing, and sight are beyond compare (his sense of touch is just a little better than average). Able to detect 1 part lemon in 500 parts water, smell nitroglycerine from the greatest distances, and literally hear and see danger coming from miles away, you’d think Drew’s powers would afford him some spidey-sense type advantages. Unfortunately, being able to sense danger and being to do something about it are two very different things, as Drew learns from a very early age. Of course, it’s hardly Drew’s fault that he’s not better prepared to face down the forces of darkness and evil – if you were saddled with a Super who has slipped off the grid, more content to spend life in a dingy bar guzzling beers than training and rescuing you, his officially mandated sidekick, you’d be a little unprepared, too.
Super or no, Drew is still eager to be a part of H.E.R.O., and to work with his fellow sidekick friends and teacher Mr. Masters. But when the greatest villain in history, the Dealer, rises from the dead, breaks out his old incarcerated henchmen (the Jacks of Clubs, Diamonds…you get the picture), and starts raising hell, things get a little hairy for our middle school hero. Supers are disappearing, and it is up to Drew and his fellow half-trained sidekicks to save themselves…and the world.
I will preface the review part of this review with a little glimpse of my chronological inner monologue while reading this book: Dear Thea, why do you drag your feet on reading books that you are so clearly excited for? This book is pretty good. No, it’s *really* good. Ok, it’s full out AWESOME. WHY DID YOU TAKE SO LONG TO READ THIS?! Ahem. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was mentally kicking myself for not reading this gem of a book as soon as I had a copy pressed into my greedy, grabby hands a few months ago. But I digress: let’s talk about the novel.
Sidekicked is the new middle grade-crossover-young adult novel from John David Anderson – one that pays homage to some wonderful genre tropes while simultaneously adding an original spin that sets the novel apart from the many other superhero fiction titles on the market today. Let me put it plainly: I absolutely loved this book. From the characterizations to the surprising plot development, I loved this book.
Our protagonist is young Drew Bean, the Sensationalist, cursed with the ability to smell what people have had for breakfast, and hear the blood rushing through their veins. I love, love, love me an under-powered main character. You see, Drew’s power – being able to smell things and hear things and see things? It’s not the kind of power that gets you on the collectible superhero cards. Heck, for the first few years of Drew’s young life, doctors had no idea what was wrong with him, drowning as he was in all of the sensations he could not control. Adding insult to injury is the fact that Drew isn’t exactly ripped, graceful, or quick – without super-strength (or even regular strength), or speed, or agility, Drew is a kid built like a twizzler without even a Super to bail him out. Luckily, Drew is smart, and he’s funny, and by the end of the book he figures out how to use his superpower to his advantage. But the thing that is so compelling about Drew, to me, is his honest and resonant voice. His feelings of betrayal and abandonment by the Titan (his Super mentor) and others in H.E.R.O. (no spoilers) are powerful things, and you can’t help but feel for and root for Drew wholeheartedly throughout the book.
It helps that Drew has a killer group of friends, too. Beyond the Sensationalist, easily my favorite character in this book is his best friend/crush Jenna, codename Silver Lynx. Gifted with super-strength, and the ability to disguise her true identity with a mere pair of glasses, Clark Kent style, Jenna is flat-out awesome. In addition to her preternatural strength and coordination, she’s smart and incredibly perceptive – it’s Jenna that questions H.E.R.O., the Code for Heroes and Sidekicks, and the dichotomy between “Good” and “Evil.” She’s the only one that detects how things in the real world aren’t quite so black and white as Supers make it out to be, and that is all kinds of wonderful. Not to mention, there’s a beautiful tension dynamic between Drew and Jenna, and I really hope that we see more of them in the future.
So what of the plot, and the actual superhero action, you ask? At first blush, Sidekicked is very much like one of my favorite disney live-action flicks, Sky High (I adore that movie). Actually, at the end of the book when all is said and done, it is still very similar to Sky High in a very good way (including a few key twists, but I won’t spoil those, either). Also similar, the action is zany and a little on the Power Rangers side, as opposed to Dark Knight-esque, but that’s not a bad thing. That’s not to say that Sidekicked is without depth or nuance, because that’s decidedly not true. There’s a surprising amount of depth when it comes to the character arc of The Titan, former infallible superhero and savior of the city, who has fallen so far from grace. I also love that even though this is a lighter-hearted book, there’s no sugar-coating or simply happy endings for anyone involved – there’s some grit and teeth to this book, and I appreciate that people have to pay the consequences of their choices.
What else can I say? I loved this book. Absolutely recommended – and another book that’s in the running for a favorite, notable read of the year.
Notable Quotes/Parts: You can read the first 80 pages of the book online HERE.
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: Starglass by Phoebe North
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