Sidekicked, by John David Anderson (Walden Pond Press, June 25, 2013), and it brings a new emotional twist to the genre.
The Highview Environmental Revitalization Organization (H.E.R.O.) is not your typical school club. The kids who slip off to its meetings are not ordinary kids. They are Sidekicks, the superheros of the future. Each one has a unique talent, each one is matched with a Superhero mentor.
But though Andrew has a superpower--preternaturally enhanced senses-- it is hard to be a Sidekick when your Superhero has no interest in your, or the Cause of Justice. In fact, the legendary Titan is just about the worst mentor a Sidekick could have. On the other side of the scale, Andrew's best friend Jenna, ak The Silver Lynx, is almost ready to take her place fighting in public at the side of her hero, The Fox.
But when a dastardly villain from the past, thought to have been annihilated by the Titan long ago, re-emerges, will the Superheros of the present be enough to stop him? Only the Fox seems to stand a chance, with Jenna fighting at her side. But Andrew, though he doubts how useful his own powers can be, isn't ready to give up on the Titan...and the bad guys haven't given up on revenge. Andrew must figure out who he can trust, and if he can trust himself, or else the bad guys will win.
What makes this one stand out is that the hero, Andrew, isn't the sort of person who's going to charge out and save the day with stupendous superhero deeds of daring. Instead, he's a kind of awkward, uncertain type of 13 year old, who worries that his powers are not ever going to have that much point, who worries that he might never find his way socially, who worries that even though he's "special," he's going to be left behind. And these anxieties are, of course, exacerbated by the fact that his "mentor" the Titan wants nothing to do with him, and instead of using his titanic powers for good, spends his time in a seedy bar. Unlike the Fox, darling of the public....
Which raises the question of obligation--if you have the power to do good, do you have to? And what if one person's path to perfect justice involved killing innocent people along the way? What does it mean to be a hero? So it's not just a book about middle school angst with superpowers, but it also gives a nod to Bigger Philosophical Questions.
My one disappointment is that I wanted more of Andrew using his super-sensory powers. He does put them to good use in a useful way on more than one occassion, and I guess I wouldn't have liked him to suddenly be Saving the Day and becoming the Hero of the Hour, because that would have felt contrived, but it didn't feel like quite enough. I wanted there to be more heavy underlining to the realization on Andrew's part that he can contribute...and so the ending felt a tad flat to me.
That being said, Sidekicked is a fine addition to the ranks of middle grade Superhero books--entertaining and interesting, with emotional depth.
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.