Review written by Jonathan Lavallee.
Michael Marion Magadlene Morn Edson was found in a White Castle by St. Mary of the Woods School for Wayward boys when he was just a baby. There was no tearful goodbye on a doorstep, or anything like that for Michael. What he discovered there, as he got older, was that he had his very own super power. He was able to suggest things to people. Within reason, and they had to be open to the idea in the first place, but if they were he could look them in the eyes and get them to do what he wanted them to do. He had the run of St. Mary’s until the day he was adopted.
That’s when he became a Minion. He was adopted by a super-villain called The Professor. Though, super-villain is probably a bit of a stretch. The first thing we see Michael doing is robbing a bank of exactly $27,500 because that’s exactly what they needed. The Professor was more of the brains behind a series of little black boxes that helped out those with more money and less scruples, and currently that meant that he was working for a Mob boss named Tony Romano and Michael was there helping The Professor do his work, but then everything changes when a new superhero comes to the city and upends everything for Michael, his friends, and his father.
This book isn’t a sequel to Sidekicked—it takes place at roughly the same time. They talk about the events in Sidekicked from a distance, like it made the news, so it isn’t necessary to have read Sidekicked before reading this one. However, I would recommend that you read Sidekicked first because it provides an excellent counterbalance to this story. It’s the other side of the same coin, and Anderson wants to talk about the same kind of themes and ideas that he did in Sidekicked but from a slightly different perspective. It’s not from the evil villain’s side either, because other than the bits of crime they commit to stay alive and keep hidden, Michael and The Professor aren’t the super-villain types. In one point when asked if Michael would want to take over the world, he replied, “That’s like asking to have everyone’s problems dumped on you at once.”
Because of the subject matter, Minion is for a slightly older audience than Sidekicked. It’s a little more challenging, so if your younger tween wants to read it right after they read Sidekicked, you’ll probably want to be there to answer any questions. The book loves questions, and frames all the things it wants to talk about that way. The Professor likes the Socratic method, and asks questions about good and evil, what Michael thinks about things, and what he plans to do.
These questions don’t slow down the story at all, and it feels like there’s a lot going on even though there are only really a few action scenes in the book, and mostly when the Blue Comet—the town’s new superhero—shows up. Michael really just wants to try to have a normal life, and watching him interact with his friend Zach, or Spike as he’s known on the street, or Viola, the girl he has a romantic interest in, is just as interesting as the action stuff when things are being blown up.
Which makes it a book you should read with your tween. It’s a great read, with an interesting story that will keep your tween interested in what’s going on even if there isn’t a lot of superhero action. The characters are all interesting, and they all have their own take on what makes someone a good person, which is really the main question the book puts forth.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
This is important, because mind control is one of those powers that could get very unpleasant very quickly. Michael, thankfully, is well aware of that and is uncomfortable in situations where he isn’t doing something specifically for his family, like getting money from a bank or trying to save someone’s life. There’s a scene where Zach tries to pressure Michael into mind controlling a girl into dating Zach. Michael refuses, and even the request makes him uncomfortable.
Good and Evil
Good and evil, and what makes a person either one is a big question and it’s a difficult one. Michael has robbed people, but they only rob for what they need. They’re protected by the Mob family, and other people seem to be okay with how that’s working, but the Mob family hurts people and gets into fights. The Blue Comet stops the bad people from doing things, but there’s a lot of damage and people get hurt. Despite the fact that a lot of people say that good and evil are absolute, the book shows it as much more grey.
Even in the ending of the book, Viola confirms Michael’s belief that he is a good person because he tries to do good in the ways that he is capable of it.
Family is big and messy in Minion. Michael and The Professor get along well. Michael is keenly aware that he is adopted and he’s fine with that. Then the reality of the situation is revealed—that The Professor knew Michael’s father, and that after his father’s death it was The Professor who was supposed to look after him. It was The Professor who had abandoned him in the first place. It makes Michael question everything that has gone on between himself and his adoptive father.
There’s also an element of overprotectiveness to their relationship. The Professor doesn’t want Michael to do anything that might be too dangerous or expose them to the general public. Michael understands that there are dangers, but he does want to have some kind of regular life. They’re both right to some degree, but both of them have difficulties seeing the other side.
There are moments of peer pressure in the book. There is the part where Zach tries to pressure Michael into using his powers to convince someone to date Zach. When Zach tells his boss what Michael can do, there is pressure on Michael to perform for the Don in order to make him happy, which is the implied threat of violence against his father if he doesn’t perform.
Minion is a great story for your middle to older tween. Despite being a companion novel to Sidekicked, it isn’t a superhero story. It isn’t a story about someone who doesn’t feel like their powers are awesome, it isn’t a story about using the powers that a person has to the best of their ability. It’s a story about what’s really good and what’s really evil, and it doesn’t have a simple answer to that question. It has action, it has friendship, it has a bit of romance, and it will leave your tween with questions, but the ending leaves you with hope that, even if there isn’t an answer, there is a possibility of being understood.