Superheroes, from Gilgamesh and Enkidu to Samson and Gideon to Hercules to Beowulf to Superman and The Incredible Hulk—we weak mortals have always been fascinated with the adventures and exploits of men (sometimes women) with incredible talents, beyond human strength, and extraordinary intelligence. Superheroes are the stuff of legend and comic book—and nowadays middle grade speculative fiction.
John David Anderson’s Sidekicked takes one aspect of the superhero mythos, the Sidekick or assistant or superhero-in-training, and builds it into a snarky middle grade fictional essay on ethics. The moral of the story, however, is a little murky.
Andrew Bean, seventh grader and citizen of the city of Justicia, is a member of H.E.R.O., a secret organization of middle school students with exceptional gifts who are training, each under their own superhero mentor, to become Superhero Sidekicks. And there’s always the possibility that these junior heroes might even graduate to become Superheroes on their own someday. Meanwhile, Drew (aka the Sensationalist), his best friend Jenna (aka The Silver Lynx) and the other members of H.E.R.O. spend several hours a week training for their future as crime fighters in a secret room in the basement of Highview Middle School. Plus for everyone except Drew, there’s one-on-one training with their very Supers (special Superhero mentors). Drew has a Super, too, but unfortunately The Titan is a superhero of the washed-up variety, “going through a little identity thing”, and totally uninterested in mentoring, or rescuing, his erstwhile sidekick, Drew (aka The Sensationalist).
So, if you’ve got Superheroes, you also have to have Supervillains to match. And in Sidekicked the villains are coming out of the woodwork, and back from the dead, to attack and take over the city. Drew is committed to the Code, the Superhero Sidekick Code of Conduct, but things start to get complicated when the meaning of concepts like justice and honor and good and evil come into question. And when there’s a girl involved.
Like I said, this book is big on snarky, self-deprecating, middle grade humor (my favorite kind of funny) and confusing ethical discussions, but it’s a little short on answers. Which is OK. It’s the sort of book that entertains a lot while making kids think a little, and that’s the best kind, as far as I’m concerned.
Sidekicked is on the short list for the Cybils Awards in the category of Middle Grade Speculative Fiction. The winners of the Cybils Awards in the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category and all the other categories will be announced tomorrow, Friday, February 14th.
Superhero books that riff off the basic superhero model abound in middle grade fiction these days. Here are a few favorites:
Failstate by John W. Otte, reviewed at Semicolon.
The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz.
Hero by Mike Lupica.
Geeks, Girls and Secret Identities by Mike Jung.
Dangerous by Shannon Hale, due out in early March, 2014.
Of course, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo, recent winner of the Newbery Award, is a different kind of superhero story (squirrel superhero), maybe for a little younger audience than the above-listed. However, I enjoyed it immensely.
Do you have a favorite kid superhero novel?