NOT YOUR SIDEKICK by C.B.Lee fills a spot for me as a queer reader that more and more I’m getting and itch for in mainstream media (basically, anything outside of Fanfic). That being; the thirst for cutesy, fun and sweet queer stories-stories with little to no angst, no coming out, no anything- just fun, just sweetness.
NOT YOUR SIDEKICK is very sweet.
It’s a book full of genuine feeling queer characters, who get to crush on their crushes, save the world and hang out with friends regardless of their race, gender or orientation. NOT YOUR SIDEKICK has all the fluffy-fun of YURI ON ICE but allows a young biracial (Vietnamese -Chinese) bisexual girl to champion the story.
Overall, Jessica Tran makes a great protagonist. She’s dorky, somewhat average in her grades and general life and aside from the fact that her parents and older sister are superheroes and her younger brother’s a genius, Jess is also the only one in her family who doesn't seem to have any super powers.
Jess feels authentic and awkward and really, all the characters in the book at time seem to present quite a lot of depth and complexity, oftentimes leaning into tropes and stereotypes if only to either commentate on them or twist them with a diverse/queer lens. Their voices feel real; they all have quirks, shortcomings, goals and strengths of their own (particularly one of Jess’ best friends, Bells).
I loved reading all of the relationships of the characters. The supporting characters were wonderful, real highlights of the story. The book’s inclusivity branches across the queer spectrum, various cultures and ethnicities from Jess’ crush Abby, to her mates Emma and Bells to her parents and the various supers (villains and heroes alike). No one was tokenistic, feeling like genuine representations of all sorts of people. I am thrilled that the sequel is going to be from Bells’ point of view as I felt he could easily have carried a book on his own.
What you can draw from this is that I loved the book for what it was, almost like a pop corn movie in summer time, though there were a couple of issues I had with it in retrospect and through the reading.
For one thing, the pacing was a bit off, some sections feeling as though they were escalating and happening too quickly, others dragging and feeling as though aspects of the book weren’t given enough time to develop (like Jess’ relationship with her sister for one).
The plot itself is extremely predictable. None of the mysteries coming across as very mysterious; ten or so pages into the story I could see the plot laid out in front of me beat for beat. There’s an element of intentionality to some of these predictabilities (Abby liking Jess back for example) but overall nothing really surprised me or was unexpected.
There were also times when Jess would come across as pretty observant and thoughtful when it came to noticing small details but, when the plot needed her not to, she suddenly became oblivious.
The only thing that caught me off guard with the book was the one thing I thought the story would actually be better without, that being Jess having a superpower (the power of direction, which admittedly is probably the most everyday useful superpower presented in the story).
Still, I had a great time with this book. NOT YOUR SIDEKICK was a breath of fresh air to a superhero genre filled with dark and gritty reboots, and a YA readership filled with white female heroines and dystopias. NOT YOUR SIDEKICK gives us something fun, light, fluffy and different. It is respectful to its characters and its readers. As an advocate for more intersectional and inclusive YA reads, I definitely think that SIDEKICKS stands out as a fun read for both older and younger YA lovers.