Review: School for Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough

School for Sidekicks
Kelly McCullough

Feiwel & Friends
I received an ARC from the publisher
Released August 4, 2015
336 pages
YA / Superheroes / Fantasy

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Being a hero isn't always what it's cracked up to be in this funny and genuine novel from adult fantasy author Kelly McCullough.
Evan Quick is a GIANT superhero geek who dreams of one day becoming a superhero himself. Every morning he checks to see if he's developed his powers overnight, and every day there's nothing. No flying, no super strength, no invulnerability—that always hurts to check—no telepathy, no magic. Not even the ability to turn off the alarm clock without smacking the switch.
But then Evan somehow manages to survive a supervillian's death ray, and is sent to the Academy for Metahuman Operatives. Unfortunately, his new school is not what he expected, and instead of fighting bad guys, Evan finds himself blacklisted, and on the wrong side of the school's director. If Evan ever wants to realize his dream, he must convince his "mentor" Foxman, a semi-retired has-been, to become a real hero once again.

School for Sidekicks is a strange little book, straddling the line between middle grade and YA. It’s much longer than the standard middle grade novel, but the protagonist just turned 13. It deals with friendships and parental relationships more than coming of age, but at the same time protagonist Evan Quick is far more rational and less emotional than someone his age usually is. It’s written for an older audience, but its characters and subject matters are more directed at a pre-teen audience. It’s a weird book that can’t quite figure out what it wants to be, which left me feeling more distracted by the book’s form than I really should have been.

School for Sidekicks is an interesting idea. Evan lives in an alternated version of our world, where a bomb went off in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1988, resulting in thousands dead and even more discovering they suddenly have super powers. Slowly afterward superpowered individuals start appearing all over the world. By the time Evan is growing up in Minneapolis – now dubbed Heropolis – it’s been a generation since the explosion and superpowers are a big money making machine. The original heroes and villains are brand names with movie franchises, merchandising, even theme parks where their fans can worship their deeds and history. Evan desperately wants to join the elite group of powered people, but wakes up every morning to find that he’s just super boring.

Soon after his 13th birthday, he goes to Captain Commanding’s local theme park, where weird things start happening to him. A few weeks later, during a school field trip to the local Museum of Heroes, he finds himself trapped by Spartanicus, super villain extraordinaire and ultimate nemesis of Captain Commanding. A chain of events unfold unlike anything Evan could ever imagine and he suddenly finds himself waking from a coma at the School for Sidekicks. He’s surrounded by superpowered teenagers and a million questions that lead to conspiracy after conspiracy for him to unravel.

The world Kelly McCullough creates is really fun with superheroes and powerful villains being a bland part of everyday life. Evan is a capable and often enthusiastic narrator, though at other times his internal monologue can get a little annoying and repetitive. The other powered teens are difficult to tell apart with either generic or non-descript code names that often sound similar. A mean girl has no real motivation other than because it felt like there should be an antagonist at the school and her front never really develops into much.

The conspiracies and larger plot threads keep School for Sidekicks intriguing as Evan tries to figure the truth behind why villains don’t seem to stay locked up for long and how he can help make the world better. For a book titled after a school, there aren’t many boarding school shenanigans here and most class scenes are told in bits of dialogue that can often seem more intriguing than whatever thing Evan is internally moping about that causes him to not pay attention in class. I really wanted to learn more about what you learn in a class about turning dinnerware into weapons!

I’m not sure if this is the first book in a series, but the ultimate conflict at the end wrapped up very quickly considering how much buildup there was and it made the ending feel a bit more like things being checked off a list rather than a natural conclusion. Perhaps future books could shed some light on all the open ended questions Evan is left with while working in more consistent pacing throughout.

I think School for Sidekicks would be a very entertaining book for kids about the same age as narrator Evan with same types of interests. This would be a great wish fulfilment tale for a 13-year-old superhero obsessed boy, but outside of that narrow readership, this book feels like it’s missing something to tie everything together and make it all gel more completely. 

 

I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. All thoughts are my own.