“Friend! Today is finally the day!”
Xiaolong looks particularly excited today, and you don’t blame her. Today is the first day of the Sidekick Squad blog tour (you know this, because Xiaolong has been reminding you for days now!) and it is her first time organising such a big and important event!
“There will be friends visiting the Pond today and I want to look my best.” She stands a little straighter, magicks a copy of Not Your Backup, and gives you her best pose. “Friend, I’m feeling a little nervous. Do you think I can practice my pitch of this book with you?”
You happily agree. She does look a little nervous, but you know that she just needs a little encouragement.
She clears her throat with an ‘ahem!’ and raises the book up to show you. “Friend, you know how much I love the Sidekick Squad series! And oh my, this third book was everything that I wanted! I mean, it has action, there’s friendship, there’s even some exploration about love and attraction and romance and identity! I just loved it.”
You give her an encouraging nod and tell her that she’s doing good so far! Xiaolong seems to relax at your assurances, and gives you a big smile.
“Well, friend, since you have me started, I want to tell you more about this book! So, Not Your Backup is so awesome because…”
Foreword and gratitude
Three years ago, I read a book that changed my life.
That book was Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee. Not Your Sidekick was one of the first books where I saw myself represented; it was the first time I had felt seen. Reading Jess’s struggle with her diaspora identity struck such a deep chord within me, and I’ve been in love with the Sidekick Squad series and its wonderful characters ever since.
Each book in the Sidekick Squad series contains exciting, inclusive, and relatable stories about superheroes, teens doing your best to do what is right, fighting against injustice, but also navigating teenage experiences, learning about yourself, and finding your calling. Lee’s books have been such bright and shining lights in diverse young-adult science-fiction; books that will make you feel warm, happy, and empowered.
Today, we are here to celebrate Not Your Backup, the third book of the Sidekick Squad series! Set in the distant future where heroes and villains exist, this story follows Emma Robeldo, a Latinx teen and the brains of the Sidekick Squad who leads the Resistance movement against the corrupt League of Heroes. (She only wishes people would take her more seriously, even though she doesn’t have superpowers.) In Not Your Backup, you can expect high-stake missions, questioning her sexual identity (is she aromantic? is she asexual? Emma is trying to figure it out), roadtrips, and challenging the status quo.
It is with immense pleasure that I introduce to you all the Sidekick Squad blog tour! From today to the 7th of June, myself and 12 other book bloggers will be sharing our reviews of books from the Sidekick Squad series and some fun posts as well! I am so excited to see what incredible content the loggers have prepared for us all, and I hope you can support them throughout the next few days!
Thus, I want to thank all the incredible book bloggers taking part in the Sidekick Squad series, and for all of their time and hard work in putting their content for this blog tour together. I also want to thank the author, C.B. Lee, for not only writing this series but also working with me to put this blog tour together! Finally, I’d like to thank the team at Interlude Press and Duet Books for helping C.B. and I getting the eARCs to all the blog tour participants and for being such a wonderful help.
I received a review copy from the publisher as part of the blog tour. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
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.
I really couldn’t help having high expectations. Not Your Backup by C.B. Lee was a book I had been excitedly waiting for two years now, and it is the third book of the beloved Sidekick Squad series, a series about teens in a world where most people have superpowers. And third, Not Your Backup was going to be about Emma, a Latinx teen who is questioning her ace and aro identity.
My friends, I have great news: Not Your Backup is a strong addition to the Sidekick Squad series, and it exceeded my expectations. If you loved Not Your Sidekick and Not Your Villain, then you are going to adore Not Your Backup. And because I know that there may be people out there who have not read the first two books, I’m going to avoid talking about what the book is about (to ensure you all aren’t spoiled!) and talk more about what I loved about the book and why you should definitely read this.
Light-hearted but unexpectedly critical and discursive
For years, I have pitched Not Your Sidekick and Not Your Villain as a light-hearted and fluffy book that you’re read if you wanted something stress-free. And whilst I stand by the fact that this series is light-hearted, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Not Your Backup contained some pretty compelling and fantastic discourse! Not Your Backup examines some Huxleyan themes on sociopolitical distraction, in particular how we are kept blind from the world’s problems and insidious workings of corrupt organisations through distractions created by these institutions. In particular, Not Your Backup examines how a system and narrative of heroes versus villains have been created to distract the public, ensuring that people are more interested in the latest superhero and their powers, rather the wars and violence waged at their borders.
Furthermore, I initially thought that the world in the Sidekick Squad series was an optimistic place – and in some ways, it is. There’s clean and renewable energy with cars that are solar powered, food is distributed to everyone, queer identities are wholly included, and cities have adapted to environmental changes. However, underneath all of this ‘good’ stuff is also a lot of ‘not great’ stuff – media prior to the formation of the North American Collective is completely banned, the news is heavily manipulated to perpetuate propaganda and restrict free information, the dangers of too much power being allocated to a powerful few, and how the people who are meant to protect the city, heroes, are active participants and enforcers of the system. I’ve really enjoyed seeing this series evolved over time, and have loved that there is some complexity in the book’s world. Furthermore, I absolutely love that Lee explores some pretty confronting topics in a way that is accessible to all audiences.
Emma, a wonderful and relatable protagonist
One of the highlights of the Sidekick Squad series is its delightful characters. In the first book, we saw Jess, a Vietnamese-Chinese teen who is as soft and kind as they come, and in the second book, we saw Bells, a trans Black teen who is confident and made of sunshine whose smile can light up the room. In Not Your Backup, we have Emma: a Latinx teen (she has two mums!) who is a perfectionist, is harder on herself than anyone could ever be, cares and loves her friends so much, and just wants to do her part in the Resistance movement against the corrupt League of Heroes.
After reading Not Your Backup, I can now say that Emma Robledo is now my new favourite character. Emma is fiercely loyal and dedicated to whatever she puts her mind to, but she can also hold herself to an extremely high standard and can be critical of herself and her failures. I related so much to her self-criticism, and also her anxiety over the finer details. I found her characterisation and her personal journey throughout the events of Not Your Backup extremely relatable and endearing, and knowing more of her character now than I did before, I look forward to reading more of the series because I now have a good idea of how she thinks and perceives things. I have no doubt that many readers will relate to Emma and love her just as much as I did.
Questioning, ace and aro family: this book is for you
Books with ace and aro rep are hard to come by, so I was relieved – and, frankly, a little overwhelmed in a good way – to read about Emma’s questioning, ace, and aro identity and experiences. In the second book, Not Your Villain, Emma explicitly states that she may be asexual – but she isn’t quite sure. It’s not often I read about ace experiences that I can genuinely relate to, particularly because Emma is questioning and is still trying to figure herself out. So reading how Emma navigates and explores her past experiences felt like… I could finally breathe. Because I think, in some ways, Emma is me.
Not Your Backup explores Emma’s feelings of being in a romantic relationship with Bells. For Emma, being in a relationship has always felt like something that she ought to do and something that will provide her with social capital. And yet, romantic relationships have never felt quite organic for her, and so she feels anxious about the implications this may have for her and Bells’s relationship. Throughout the story, she explores her experiences with attraction, how she perceived and approached dating as a formula that she could solve, and the societal pressures associated with dating and what it entails. There’s also a very explicit and safe conversation that discusses all of these feelings, and I wish more books had these sort of discussions. All of the explorations of her identity and her questioning felt so genuine and organic, and I really appreciated that these discussions within the book, that are clear and meaningful, exist for fellow questioning, ace, and aro people.
MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED
Three books into the series, Not Your Backup remains to be a refreshing, down-to-earth, and exciting instalment to the Sidekick Squad series and offers new and promising directions. Readers will love this book for its fresh perspective, its lovely narrative, and the book’s amazing protagonist. If you’re a fan of the Sidekick Squad, I cannot recommend this installment enough.
And for those of you who love Abby Jones? I won’t say what happens but you’ll definitely need to read this book, and then you’ll be curious and excited to read the fourth book, Not Your Hero.
Is this book for you?
Premise in a sentence: A queer Latinx teen grapples with her lack of superpowers, relationships, and her mission to lead the Resistance movement against a corrupt organisation.
Perfect for: Readers who love the Sidekick Squad series; readers who love reading about superheroes; readers who love wholesome stories and inclusive worldbuilding; readers who are looking for asexual and aromantic representation
Think twice if: You haven’t read the first two books – highly recommend that you read them first!
Genre: young-adult, post-apocalyptic, science-fiction
Trigger/content warning: internalised shame throughout an aromantic and asexual questioning arc (examined), some sci-fi violence and off-screen non-graphic minor character deaths.
About C.B. Lee
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.
Blog Tour Stops!
Join us for the next 12 days to celebrate and promote the release of Not Your Backup! Be sure to stop by the other blogs participating in this blog tour.
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)
Rita @ Bookish Rita (NYB Review + Quiz/Aesthetic)
Laura @ Green Tea & Paperbacks (NYB Review + Creative Post)
Lili @ Utopia State of Mind (NYB Review + Handlettering)
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)
Friends, thank you so much for joining me and for reading my review of Not Your Backup! Again, I absolutely cannot wait for you all to read this book, and I can’t wait to see all the blog tour stops over the next few days.
- Have you read any of the Sidekick Squad series books? What did you think?
- Are you looking forward to reading Not Your Backup? What are you looking for to in particular?
- If you had a superpower… what would it be?