Welcome to Andover, where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, whom Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.
I really adored this story. From realistic non-stereotypical characters, to amazingly fun super heroes and powers, I couldn’t put the book down. Jess was so real she leapt off the page and came alive as I was reading. Her emotions were vivid and described amazingly. The suspense around the super heroes, villains and wondering if Jess and Abby were going to find out who was behind the bad things (and oh my gosh I want to say more about it because it’s SO well laid out. But SPOILERS!).
Jess is such a vibrant character. Her emotions and fears felt real and I got invested in her wants and desires quickly. Watching her handle her fears, her feelings of insecurity and unworth was amazing to see. She fumbled along but still keeps a positive attitude and works to overcome what she thinks she needs to. I adored seeing her waffling about her feelings for Abby and dealing with the stress of not knowing if Abby likes girls or not. She handled herself so well and it was sweet to see her reaction when she realizes Abby does in fact like her.
Abby was a fun character. She’s so strong and knows exactly what she wants in so many ways. She still has some of the typical teenage fears that all teen readers can relate to. She also has some that are unique to her situation in the story. But she handles herself with poise and confidence. She’s really good for Jess too. She constantly sticks up for Jess and lets Jess know she likes her just the way she is.
The super secret stuff going on throughout the story? I’m not going to spoil it so this part will be kind of vague. But it was completely well written and threaded nicely throughout the story. I kind of didn’t see it coming when everything was revealed. I want to know more and can’t wait for the sequel to come out. I’m eager for the person to get what’s coming to them and see how everyone else reacts when the world finds out about what’s really going on and who the real bad guys are.
Jess’ friends are so wonderful. I really like Emma and Bells. They are vibrant characters but don’t steal the show. They’re around just enough o make me want to know more but not so much I feel it’s a story about them. I liked seeing Emma’s reaction to the superhero reveal. The ending of the story was a great happy for now on many levels. I’m very eager for the next book in this series. I love the world created and can’t wait to see more of it.
Four and a half
Ms. Lee join us today to share some backstory on where Jess came from, and the Vietnamese dishes talked about in the story. Plus she shares how to make one of her favorite ones that can be found in the book. There are pictures included and it looks delicious! I want to take a bite myself. Read and enjoy!
My parents both come from large families, and as long as I remember at least once a month we would all get together for a huge party that would last all day. Sometimes it was for a holiday, or someone’s birthday, but more often than not it was just a random Saturday where we’d just gather and celebrate being alive.
My mom and dad were both refugees of the Vietnam war, and on my mom’s side they were displaced twice, from Vietnam and China from the Cultural Revolution. Escaping the Communists took two generations, a war, and living in desolate, remote refugee camps. Family was scattered to the winds, and after the camps people made lives where they could; I have cousins living all over the world, from Australia to Europe to Canada to the United States.
My mom arrived in California with her younger sister and her five year old nephew, unsure whether she’d see her parents, siblings, or any of her family again. She met my dad in Los Angeles in 1981 and went to school, working and then starting a family, and it took many years for her to work and be able to sponsor the rest of our family to come over. My aunts, uncles, cousins, and then my grandparents finally were all reunited after years of separation.
We would often have bánh xèo at these parties, my aunt cooking up a huge batch of these savory crepes in her backyard as everyone crowded around, talking and laughing as we sat on mismatched lawn chairs.
The yard always smelled of basil and mint, and the day would stretch into afternoon and then to evening, and there would be nonstop food and drink and conversation, children running around playing and adults relaxing over beer and cards.
I was an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction as a teenager, and I never saw a character that looked like me and had my background, going off and having adventures. I hope everyone can connect with Jess and her friends in the series, especially youth of color.
I wrote quite a few Vietnamese dishes into Not Your Sidekick. Jess and her family would have had a tradition of eating bánh xèo from time to time, but she doesn’t quite have a large extended family and the beauty of bánh xèo is to make them in large batches, since quite a bit of work goes into the prep for the dish.
Also, in 2123 in the North American Collective, land resources are devoted mostly to planting fruits and vegetables, not maintaining livestock for consumption, so eating meat is expensive, something a middle-class family like the Trans would do only on occasion. But they would still make bánh xèo and enjoy it just as me and my family do.
Bánh Xèo (Serves 12)
1.5 cups rice flour
2 teaspoons tumeric powder
1 tablespoon tapioca starch
3 cups water
1 can (14 oz) coconut milk
1 cup chopped scallions
1 teaspoon salt
1 lb shrimp, shelled and deveined
1 lb pork belly (can also substitute thick-cut bacon)
1.5 lb bean sprouts
1 lb dry mung beans
Vegetables and etc
2 heads of looseleaf red and green lettuce
1 cup water, warm
1/4 cup fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon or lime juice
1 clove garlic, peeled
Set aside a half pound of mung beans and soak in water until soft (at least two hours.) Use a food processer or blender to grind the other half into a fine powder.
Prepare sauce. Dissolve sugar in warm water. Mix in fish sauce and lemon juice. Finely dice garlic and chile, add to taste.
Prepare batter. Set aside chopped scallions. Mix all batter ingredients together, including the powdered mung bean and refrigerate overnight or for twelve hours.
Wash bean sprouts and vegetables and set aside. Cut onions into strips. Blanch pork belly and slice in thin strips.
Cook each crepe.
Heat skillet to medium to high heat, add about 1 teaspoon of oil. Saute a few strips of onion and shrimp, cook for about one minute. Add pork; shrimp should not be completely opaque yet. Add bean sprouts and mung beans. Add batter, enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Tilt pan so batter is spread across entire pan. Cover for two minutes until batter is set. Remove lid and cook on low heat until crepe is crisp. Fold in half. Serve immediately.
To serve: Open a lettuce leaf and arrangebánh xèo, mint, other vegetables etc. roll and dip in nuoc cham.
After dinner, Jess expects Claudia to hang out with her parents, or maybe reconnect with some of her friends in the area, but instead she pulls Jess aside.
“So, I heard from Mom and Dad, that like—oh, happy birthday, by the way—” Claudia says, like an afterthought. There’s a holo of them as children behind them: Claudia, a happy teenager, standing next to a young Jess holding baby Brendan. “—that you’re not gonna present with any powers. And that’s okay, you know, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I know you really wanna do the hero thing, and I came up with a great idea.”
“You could be my sidekick! Okay, usually hero support requires that the sidekick presents with at least a D-class power, but I think if you wanna hang back in the lab, you can totally help with the tech side of things, maybe monitor the holofeeds and work with the communications team? I had to pull a lot of strings. And you can totally meet Captain Orion too! In person! Isn’t that great? You could start with us as soon as your spring quarter—it could be like an internship! Mom mentioned you were looking for a job, right, some time ago?”
A few weeks ago this idea might be interesting, but now to be asked to be in her sister’s shadow yet again, it’s just… patronizing.
She has a job now where she’s important and needed. M needs her. Master Mischief and Mistress Mischief need her.
“Thanks,” Jess says. “But I’m gonna have to pass. I have a job already.”
C.B. Lee is a bisexual writer, rock climber, and pinniped enthusiast from Southern California. A first-generation Asian American, she is passionate about working in communities of color and empowering youth to be inspired to write characters and stories of their own. Lee’s debut novel Seven Tears at High Tide was published by Duet Books in 2015 and named a finalist in the Bisexual Books Awards. This summer, C.B. was named to Lambda Literary’s Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices.
Get to know C.B. at http://cb-lee.com; on Twitter at https://twitter.com/author_cblee; on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/authorcblee/; on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/cblee_cblee/; and on Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/11230592.C_B_Lee.
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