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?
Andrew Bean, or Drew for short, is not a normal middle schooler. Oh, he’s been picked on, he can’t stand school lunches, and his mom still manages to worry over him to the point of embarrassment fairly often. But Drew is hiding half of his identity – during 4th period science class three days a week he’s not just a kid – he’s a sidekick. To a superhero. He’s training to save the world. But mostly, the Sensationalist (aka Drew) is just trying to survive the year. It won’t be easy to act normal with a new supervillain in town…
Drew is that relatable, introspective, verging-on-worrywart kid that we all were or knew in middle school. He has typical problems (avoiding bullying, being terrible at organized sports, trying to figure out if his best friend ‘like’ likes him), but he is also pulled out of his teenage self-absorption by his talent and the code he’s striving to live by. The continued absence of his superhero doesn’t make it easy, but he’s keeping his head above water until true danger rolls into town.
The best thing about Drew is his voice. Anderson has written a sarcastic, smart and perceptive Drew, and it makes the whole story click. Take this example, from page 44 (of the ARC version):
“Last week I read the fine print on a credit card application from forty feet away. I identified the sound of a feather landing on a pillow. I smelled one part lemon juice in five hundred parts water. Sharks around the world, eat your hearts out.”
That understated humor thrown in with everyday (and not-so-everyday) observations adds to the sly charm of Sidekicked. Lest female readers be dissuaded from picking up the book, I can assure you that while there isn’t a female voice, Drew’s best friend Jenna figures prominently. She’s described through the lens of Drew’s experience, so there are a few layers of mystery, but this isn’t a boys-only superhero club – the most powerful superhero in town is Jenna’s partner, the Fox, a dynamo of crime-stopping and action.
Since Drew is by nature an observer, there are quieter bits in Sidekicked than I expected for a superhero book, but that doesn’t mean that the story lacks action. There’s plenty of dangling precariously over vats of acid, plot twists, fights, losses of faith, keeping the code, protecting the cover story and, of course, saving the day. It’s a well-written, satisfying, and wryly funny book with a great hook and an engaging teen voice.
Recommended for: fans of superhero stories, those who enjoy clever books with humor and humanity, and readers on the older end of the middle grade range – 10-14 year-olds.
Fine print: I received an ARC of Sidekicked for review from Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins). I did not receive any compensation for this post.