In C.B. Lee’s latest installment of the Sidekick Squad series, Not Your Backup centers Emma Robledo. Does she have the super ability to sense direction? No. To change her shape at will? Also no. Is that going to stop her from leading the Resistance against a corrupt government organization with everything she does have? Not a chance.
With returning characters that fans of the series have grown to love, this inclusive series has a new chapter unfolding that will be sure to offer even more of what they’ve come to love: representation, quippy characters, and strong people that, powered or not, are going to fight to make sure they’re not kept down.
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Published: 1 June 2019
Publisher: Duet Books (YA Imprint of Interlude Press)
Genre(s): Young Adult/LGBT+/Superheroes
Emma Robledo has a few more responsibilities that the usual high school senior, but then again, she and her friends have left school to lead a fractured Resistance movement against a corrupt Heroes League of Heroes. Emma is the only member of a supercharged team without powers, and she isn’t always taken seriously. A natural leader, Emma is determined to win this battle, and when that’s done, get back to school. As the Resistance moves to challenge the League, Emma realizes where her place is in this fight: at the front.
Lambda Literary Award finalist C.B. Lee returns with the third book in her bestselling Sidekick Squad series, which has garnered both critical acclaim and fans for its joyous tone and inclusivity.
Rating: 4 Stars
CW: internal shame though asexual and aromantic questioning, sci-fi violence
Rep: aro/ace questioning (examined in-depth w. MC), diverse cast, main & secondary (including Latina MC in a relationship with a Black trans boy; non-binary/gay/lesbian)
Not Your Backup starts off with a high stakes mission for a group of metahumans, lead by our main character Emma, the mastermind behind the operation and not, herself, possessed of meta-abilities. That doesn’t stop her from throwing herself into the fight for justice against the Heroes League of Heroes. From the off we see her merits at work, the planning, the concern for her friends, the angles her brain & heart work at to make sure everyone, those who know the truth about the “heroes” and those who don’t, will be alright.
Part of what I like about Emma is that, in a world where there are metahumans, particularly where the antagonists are people with a terrifying skill set and Emma is not a powered person, she doesn’t let this immediately cower her. Despite what some may see as a drawback, and while some of the metahumans, like the adults in the Resistance, don’t want to directly challenge the Heroes League of Heroes, Emma is stepping up to do what is right with what she has: her determination, her courage, her brains. Those are her abilities, her “powers”.
She does have some difficulty when trying to fight, whether it be within the Resistance itself and some who might see her as ineffectual because of her normality (there’s one character in particular that I dearly wanted to slug) or because of her own anxiety and self-doubt. Emma’s desire to help, to think out her plans to each eventuality and perfect them, is tricky and very familiar. It made her so relatable because I got that: wanting to be able to plan all the strings of a plan, where every branch of something might fork off. It’s so hard, not being able to know. That anxiety is intense and you could feel it in this story.
CB’s books are multi-faceted masterpieces. They’re not just about superheroes or people without powers doing what they can in a society built around metahumans. Not Your Sidekick, wherein Jessica was the MC, spoke about biracial identity. In Not Your Backup, when Emma is visiting one of Bells’s family farms, they talk about how it’s necessary to farm fresh fruits & vegetables secretly because their main farms are forced to sell directly to the Collective (i.e. the government) which jacks the prices up so most people cannot afford to eat anything other than highly processed foods. This was a haunting moment because that’s a very familiar scenario in parts of the world and given what the world is like these days, who knows how much worse it could get?
There was also Emma’s ace/aro questioning. There were some serious internal dialogue that was particularly poignant and I liked these moments because, while some of them were tough to read (mostly because I remembered going through similar moments myself) I appreciated that they were on the page to begin with. I don’t recall many ace and/or aro questioning characters on the page, so getting the opportunity to read about Emma in a series that I already enjoy was quite awesome. 🙂
Not Your Backup is a fun sequel to the previous entries in the Sidekick Squad series and will welcome y’all back with open arms. Are you ready to join the Resistance? There’s room for us all (and next year, who knows, book 4? 👀) ❤
Who Would I Be In the World of SIDEKICK SQUAD?
I originally thought this question would be easy because I have pondered the “what superpower would you have” topic before. After all, I do love stories with superheroes and movies like the X-men. However, after having read the current Sidekick Squad books, I realized that my answer kept changing. There are a whole host of potential possibilities and I think the answer depends on who I am on any given day.
If I were to pick an established character who I’d want to be/whose power I’d want to have, it would have to be Bells. His chameleon abilities get stronger from Not Your Sidekick, where we barely know anything about them, through Not Your Villain, where we really got inside his story because he was the main character. In Not Your Backup, there are some instances where the extent of his abilities, such as shifting into an actual train track, just boggles the mind.
I find the power of transformation particularly appealing because there are a great many things about my body that I’d use Bells’s chameleon abilities to adjust. As Bells demonstrates, he is able to take on the shape of any person he chooses and, as a trans man, is able to use his abilities so that he doesn’t have to use a binder 24/7 (something which isn’t healthy anyway). That sounds like it would be such a relief for me. As a plus size trans non-binary person who can’t use a binder, having a superpower that would allow me to change my shape would be, just, amazing. Bells can also utilize this power to try different hair colors & styles without worrying about dye drips, which I can tell would be also be really great. lol
If I were to choose a Sidekick Squad based persona not explicitly based on an existing member, I think I’d choose something that was water based. I’m not sure how much help that would be to the Jess, Bells, Emma, and the rest of the group, considering the story is primary set in the desert, but I love swimming more than anything and I live on the East Coast so we’ll pretend that I’m a member of the East Coast Resistance or something. 😀 Maybe I’d have gills that would appear and disappear when I needed them so I could breathe underwater. Or perhaps my power would allow my body to compress/decompress in depths that ordinary humans wouldn’t be able to achieve without special suits.
Side Note: After writing that last part, I watched Aquaman and issues that I had with the film aside, I realized I would basically want to be the meta-human equivalent of an Atlantean. ^^;
A cautious, responsible driver and citizen educated by the Manual Driving Authority of the North American Collective would have never risked it.
Emma Robledo is neither cautious nor responsible.
Next to her, Bells and Abby are hugging too. Emma laughs and hugs Abby as well. Bells pulls Jess in, and it’s everything Emma’s been missing.
Chloe claps enthusiastically. In front of her, a vase of shoots and buds blossoms into full, colorful flowers, complementing Chloe’s elegant aesthetic.
About the Author
CB Lee is a Lambda Literary Award nominated writer of young adult science fiction and fantasy. Her works include the Sidekick Squad series (Duet Books), Ben 10 (Boom!), and All Out Now (HarperTeen). CB loves to write about queer teens, magic, superheroes, and the power of friendship.
Lee’s work has been featured in Teen Vogue, Wired Magazine, and Hypable. Lee’s first novel in the Sidekick Squad series, Not Your Sidekick was a 2017 Lambda Literary Awards Finalist in YA/Children’s Fiction and a 2017 Bisexual Book Awards Finalist in Speculative Fiction. Seven Tears at High Tide was the recipient of a Rainbow Award for Best Bisexual Fantasy Romance and also a finalist for the 2016 Bisexual Book Awards in the YA and Speculative Fiction categories.
SIDEKICK SQUAD Tour Schedule
Harker @ The Hermit Librarian (NYB Review + Quotes/Who Would I Be in CB’s World?)
Shari @ Colour Me Read (NYS Review + Illustration)
Fadwa @ Word Wonders (NYB Review + Aesthetic)
Ceillie @ Let’s Fox About It (NYB Review + Character Interview)
Avery @ The Book Deviant (NYB Review + Quiz)
1st June [NYB RELEASE DAY]
Rita @ Bookish Rita (NYB Review + Quiz/Aesthetic)
Laura @ Green Tea & Paperbacks (NYB Review + Creative Post)
Lili @ Utopia State of Mind (NYB Review)
Nicky @ Small Queer, Big Opinions (Trilogy Review)
Kait @ Kaitlyn Gosiaco (NYB Review + Author Interview/Aesthetic)
Shenwei @ READING (AS)(I)AN AMERICA (NYB Review)
Janani @ The Shrinkette (Trilogy Review)
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.