Sunday, December 25, 2016

School for Sidekicks

School for Sidekicks
by Kelly McCullough
Recommended Ages: 12+

Evan Quick has always fantasized about becoming a Mask - his alternate-history world's version of a superhero, fighting villanous metahumans known as Hoods - but when super-healing abilities, combined with a bit of super-strength, super-speed, and suicidally lippy super-banter suddenly manifest during a class field trip-turned-hostage crisis, Evan begins to realize not everything about being super is super. To start with, he barely survives a direct hit from Spartanicus' death ray, putting him on the wrong side of the strongest Hood alive. At the same time, his act of heroism instantly makes him a rival of top Mask Captain Commanding, whose willingness to do awful things in the service of his ego lead him to be described as a great man who isn't a good man. Also, his sudden transfer to the Academy of Metahuman Operations, a.k.a. Hero High, a.k.a. School for Sidekicks, creates a rift between Evan and his worried parents back on earth. Did I say "back on Earth"? Yes, because the AMO is on Deimos, one of the moons of Mars. That's how wide the rift is.

So Evan finds himself far from home, surrounded by kids with their own weird powers and more or less massive chips on their shoulders, learning subjects like Combat with Dinnerware and Superhero Repartee, and slowly growing to suspect their school, along with O.S.I.R.I.S., the Mask/Hood-regulating agency that runs it, is built on lies and secrets. Getting to the bottom of these secrets will require Evan to risk getting into a lot of trouble, learn to work with some prickly personalities, and perhaps bear the wrath of far more powerful people whose position on the good/evil slider is tricky to assess. And then, even though he is a newbie with lame, barely-sidekick-caliber powers, apprenticed to a troubled, has-been hero who only took him on as an insult to Captain Commanding, Evan - codename Meerkat - finds himself with the weight of saving the world on his shoulders.

It's a funny, action-filled adventure full of gee-whiz concepts that are sure to light up the imagination of readers junior-high-age and older. It conjures an alternate version of the Twin Cities, rebuilt in the aftermath of a catastrophe that created the world's first and strongest Masks and Hoods, and even mentions a metro-area high school that I attended when I was a little older than Evan. So maybe I had extra-personal reasons to be drawn into this fantasy world. It also experiments with some written special effects that I haven't seen before, such as a graphic that seems to represent time going backward, and a couple passages in which disconnected jokes and rejected story ideas seem to be strung together to create a montage effect.

The book teems with quirky gadgets, offbeat superpowers, and unexpected problems one might discover by simply thinking through the implications of a world with superheroes and supervillains. It sparkles with wit, charm, warmth, and character that should appeal to an even wider audience than the fans of Sky High, Lab Rats, and other teen superhero franchises - not to mention Harry Potter fans, whose favorite school for magic is also mentioned in this book as a fictional counterpart to Evan's school. Other books I might as well mention, for those who want to read more of the same kind of thing, include John David Anderson's Sidekicked, Mike Lupica's Hero, Matt Myklusch's The Accidental Hero, and on a more adult level, Samit Basu's Turbulence.

Kelly McCullough is a Wisconsin-based author whose work includes the five-book "WebMage" series and the six-book "Fallen Blade" series. He also wrote a companion novella for this book, The Totally Secret Origin of Foxman.

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