Review written by Jonathan Lavallee.
The Sensationalist is unhappy with his lot in life. Born Andrew Macon Bean, he was recruited into H.E.R.O., a superhero sidekick training program, because of his incredibly heightened senses. H.E.R.O aims to take young people with extraordinary talents and pair them with superheroes willing to take on apprentices who have some training. Some people get cool supers, like Drew’s friend Jenna who is paired with Justicia’s best super The Fox. Other people, like Drew, get supers such as The Titan who have vanished off the face of the planet. Beyond that, his powers of sensing don’t seem as awesome as the other people in H.E.R.O who shoot electricity, pass through walls, have super strength or unbreakable skin.
And the worst part is that Wednesday is steak cube day. Nobody likes steak cube day.
Sidekickedis a wonderful superhero story that covers a whole host of ground. It’s about learning that being strong doesn’t always mean smashing cars. The book is a conversation about what good and evil really mean. It’s part action story, part mystery, and generally a good time for whatever your tween likes. Even if your tween isn’t a huge superhero fan, if they’re looking to expand their tastes a little bit, Sidekicked is a great choice because it’s less about being in tights and kicking people than it is being in middle grade and having to deal with the tights.
Which really means that while a lot of tweens will enjoy the book, it’s still aimed at your older tweens. A lot of things come up in the book that you could talk about; a lot of things that confuse the characters might be things that your tween is going through right now. Sure, they’re missing the heightened sense of smell, or the ability to shoot balls of electricity, but the confusion is very real and very apparent for all the characters in the story. There’s a lot that happens around them, and they feel that, despite the fact that it’s their future, they are purposefully kept out of the loop and that frustration is something that your tween might relate to.
There’s been a glut of superhero stories published lately, so it can be confusing to know which ones are good. Sidekicked is one of those books. As a paperback it’s 400 pages according to the Amazon page, but the language is straightforward so that even if you have a tween who is having a hard time you can help them through with this book. It’s something they can enjoy and have the achievement of finishing a larger novel.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
Good vs Evil
There’s a lot of the standard posturing of “good is good and evil is evil” that happens in the early parts of the book, but there is a lot of wondering what that really means. Drew is stressed out because of dealing with The Titan and he forgets that there’s a math quiz so he debates about using his abilities to cheat, and if helping him get through this is a good thing or not.
There’s also a huge discussion between Jenna and Drew where she tries to let him know that she’s working for The Dealer by having a confusing discussion about good and evil, about what makes someone evil, and the varying degrees of it. The conversation is confusing to Drew and it could easily spark a long conversation because Jenna doesn’t ask easy questions and there isn’t a simple answer for them.
If your tween can’t handle betrayal, then maybe you should avoid this book. The plot hinges on Jenna’s betrayal of the whole H.E.R.O program to The Dealer. This is its own betrayal as The Dealer is really the superhero The Fox whose new plan is to be the only superhero out there. Drew eventually discovers it, but there’s a lot of suspicion along the way and a lot of people who he feels might be the one betraying them all.
Drew feels betrayed by The Titan who ignores The Sensationalist even though The Titan was assigned to Drew as his hero. The Titan is going through his own emotional problems, but whenever Drew is in danger The Titan never shows up and Drew relies on other superheroes to save him.
There are a lot of secrets in the story too. Sidekicks aren’t supposed to reveal their identities, so Drew has to constantly lie to his parents about what he’s doing. He has issues with keeping this secret from them because of how they will react, and how his work as a sidekick will worry them.
Secrets also play a part of the betrayal, because Drew has secretly met with The Titan to convince him to join the fight. He keeps The Titan’s secret from everyone except for Jenna who then uses that secret to betray Drew because she told The Fox where The Titan was and then was part of the kidnapping attempt.
Jenna, Drew, and Gavin are in a kind of love triangle. Drew and Jenna are best friends, but Drew feels like he wants more but isn’t sure. Jenna is interested, and she kisses him after their conversation about good and evil, and then when The Fox has been defeated and captured. She also kisses Gavin, because she is uncertain about her feelings, which comes up when she invites both Gavin and Drew to the fancy party that The Fox’s alter ego is throwing.
This is my own personal kind of nightmare, but there are supervillains, and supervillains have traps. If a kind of slow death is terrifying—and it was for me when I was younger—then it’s something to watch out for. The Sensationalist (Drew) and the Silver Lynx (Jenna) are being lowered into a swimming pool filled with acid in the first chapter, though their banter makes it a little lighter than expected. At the end of the book The Sensationalist and The Titan are being lowered into a pool of cement, and eventually The Fox is knocked into it where she’s encased in concrete and dies.
This is a great book if you and your tween are into supers. It’s also a great book if your tween is interested in looking into superhero stories, especially with all the superheroes that are showing up in film and TV lately, because it provides the superhero story but puts a lot of focus on their personal experience rather than just a straight action story. It’s also got lots of great moments that will provide you and your tween plenty of topics for discussion about the nature of good and evil, and heroes and villains.