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?
Note: I feel a need to point out that yes, these are my real thoughts on Sidekicked – no April Fool’s Day pranks here, I’m sorry. I’ve done them in the past (sort of) but couldn’t think of one this year, so this is what you get. I hope that’s all right.
Earlier this year, I discussed one of my 2014 bookish goals: to randomly choose books more often. I am definitely a bookworm with A List – checking off books as quickly as possible so my to-read list stays manageable – but sometimes I ignore books that look cool because I’m too busy staying on track. I don’t often stop to explore, as it were. I head straight for the shelves where I can find [insert author here] and [insert series there].
But Sidekicked was different. (Out of thirty-four books, I’ve read five others that were chosen randomly, but this was the only one I had any interest in reviewing.) I didn’t know anything about it. It just looked cool.
But was its story cool? I don’t know. I am conflicted about this book, and so I’m reviewing it in list format – discussing the GOOD and BAD points.
This review is spoiler-free!
GOOD: The cover.
The art was the only reason I picked up Sidekicked. It’s really rather simple, but cool all the same. I enjoy covers that are creative with their title placement, that work the words into a picture.
BAD: The childishness.
I am incredibly biased here, though. Apparently the intended audience is eight to twelve and I’m, well, seventeen. I should’ve known Sidekicked was a children’s book when I saw its cutesy cover.
But I didn’t, and that’s how I ended up reading a book about an often-whiny middle-school student. Hey, the library did put it in the YA section because… they’re weird like that. This isn’t the first time that’s happened to me, actually.
GOOD: The wordplay.
That is one of my favorite qualities in children’s books, you guys. Possibly because I read a lot of Roald Dahl as a kid and that makes up like eighty percent of his stories. But anyway. I grinned so much while reading this book thanks to the author’s creativity. Like one time, it’s said that a superhero known as the Mantis had fallen prey to some villains. Meanwhile, Mr. Malleable was stretched to the limit.
BAD: The wordplay.
And yet, halfway through I was tired of the puns and jokes. Maybe there were too many of them. Maybe they started to feel forced. Whatever the reason, Sidekicked is close to four hundred pages and I guess I can’t handle that much cutesiness.
GOOD: The mention of a queer kid.
With his incredible sense of sound, Drew can hear anything and everything in the school. Including kids talking about who they like – there’s a scene when he overhears one girl discussing her crush on a guy, which makes Drew laugh because in another part of the school, that guy mentions his crush on another guy.
It was just one sentence, and clearly we could use a lot more representation than that, but hey. It’s better – more realistic – than the books that pretend that everyone is heterosexual. I don’t know of many other books that do this. There’s picture books, there’s YA novels, and not a whole lot for the age group in between, at least as far as I’m aware.
BAD: The lack of well-developed characters.
I felt like I knew only Andrew, Jenna, Mr. Masters, and the Titan. No one else. Now, that wouldn’t be a problem if there were only a handful of characters, but there weren’t. Drew may not have many friends, but the ones he has are (supposedly) always there for him, always great people.
Supposedly. The author told this rather than showing it and after a while, I was fed up because what is the point of having a secondary character who doesn’t have at least a little character development?
GOOD: The superheroes.
I genuinely do like superheroes, despite having seen a pitifully small number of superhero films. (Books and even comics are more my thing.) Fantasy novels and superhero stories have something in common – characters with superhuman abilities. And it’s fun to imagine myself as someone extraordinary.
I particularly liked the Titan, Drew’s superhero mentor, even if most of his good scenes are shown only through flashbacks.
BAD: The narrator’s whininess.
Exhibit one: Drew’s continual griping about his lack of true superhero powers. He’s bummed that his senses bar him from having a huge advantage in fights and sure, I can see how that might stink.
But you know what else he could do with those super-senses? He could be the world’s most fantastic spy ever. He could be just as amazing as a fighter, albeit in a different way, but does he ever realize that? No. It was irritating.
The second, and far more annoying, problem with Drew is his obsession over Jenna. First, he complains that he likes her and she doesn’t like him back. Instead, she likes another guy. Oh my god! Horrors! You mean people might have free will and are not obligated to like a certain person?!
Look, I get that it stinks, but sometimes you don’t get what you want in life. (And if the person isn’t interested in you I doubt they were the “right one” anyway.) Drew absolutely would not drop the matter, and I hated that.
And then along came that sentence. The Extremely Daft and Incredibly Annoying sentence. When Drew is captured by a villain and about to die he says, “I should have known because the truth is, guys like me never get the girl.”
Excuse me. Stop. Just stop. Please. You’re about to freaking die and all you can think about is how you couldn’t make a girl like you? No wonder she doesn’t like you. Lighten up, Drew. You’re thirteen. Your lack of a girlfriend isn’t a death sentence – in fact, I’d say your death sentence is, well, actually staring you in the face. Why don’t you focus on getting out alive instead?
That kid was obsessive. It got old really quickly.
So, that pretty much wraps up my thoughts about Sidekicked by John David Anderson. My feelings about it changed dramatically from start to finish and I was disappointed to have been deceived by a pretty cover.
Its character development was either sparse or downright weird, and I probably would’ve liked the book more if I were actually the age of the intended audience, but don’t think I’m giving up on randomly-chosen books. That’s the nature of the thing – you never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes you find disappointments. Other times you find books that are, ahem, super. I hope to find one of those next.