Happy October! There are so many reasons to celebrate this month: October is Filipino American Heritage Month and LGBT History Month! If you’re reading this in ~real time~, I’m likely with my mom at a Filipino arts exhibit at the Asian American Art Museum. Amidst all of this celebration, I’m so excited to share with you one of my favorite YA books of the past year – definitely something to pick up this special month. Read on for a tale of high school friendship, budding romance, and a spectacular cast of LGBT superhero teens!
Jess is a middle child and an underdog. Her parents save the day regularly, under their superhero aliases Shockwave and Smasher. Her older sister’s a prodigy in the League of Heroes, and her younger brother’s a genius. Jess, though, is certain that she’ll discover her powers soon.
But what if a sinister mystery looms, and Jess’s powers still haven’t kicked in? When Jess is the only one who can stop impending evil, she realizes she doesn’t just have to be somebody’s sidekick.
Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee is a delightful superhero story. The exposition builds up slowly, as we meet the people who populate Jess’s world – her immigrant parents, her loyal best friends, her impossibly adorable crush Abby. The plot, as with most superhero narratives, is predictable. But honestly, who needs an intricate mystery, when you’ve got exciting action scenes and such a lively world of characters?
Most of all, Not Your Sidekick represents a much-needed direction in YA lit. A lot of “diverse YA” thus far has focused on an identity’s marginalization. THUG is a perfect example when this works beautifully. Likewise, in past decades, YA with LGBT characters usually framed struggles with sexual identity as the central conflict.
But what if being gay (or in Jess and her friends’ cases, being bi, lesbian, and trans) didn’t have to be a source of conflict? What if their sexual identity is *gasp* just a part of the broader fabric of their lives?
And this is Not Your Sidekick’s great superpower. The book acknowledges the characters’ LGBT identities and normalizes them. In one scene, Abby asks Jess what pronouns her friends prefer, and I clutched my heart and was like, This moment is so casual and perfect.
Readers, I was ecstatic. C.B. Lee (who is bi, a daughter of Southeast Asian immigrants, and an all-around joy) shows these kinds of moments without any fanfare – Jess and Abby are just teens, being courteous about each other’s pronouns. When I asked C.B. what it was like writing her book, she told me writing for Jess’s character “just felt more real to me.” And indeed, that’s how I know Not Your Sidekick will resonate with teen readers.
There are many ways to ring in LGBT History Month. One way, I think, is to think about how the future for LGBT teens can be better and brighter. Not Your Sidekick is a gesture toward that kind of fantastic possibility, where LGBT, immigrant-origin kids can kick bad guys’ butts and be the heroes who save the world.
Of course, don’t take my word for it. Check out some reviews from other fantastic book bloggers:
- Shenwei, at READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA. Since I identify as a straight, cis-gender woman, there are nuances that I am missing in my review. Shenwei’s review is thorough and more informed by their personal insights. I highly recommend it, and their blog as a whole!
- CW at Read, Think, Ponder. Her contagious enthusiasm introduced me to this book and inspired me to talk to C.B. Lee after her panel! Dream. come. true. (Thank you so much, girl!! You are the best.)
Be sure to pick up Not Your Sidekick before the sequel, Not Your Villain, comes out on October 5th!
What have you been reading lately? Are you doing anything special for Filipino American Heritage Month and/or LGBT History Month?