Friday, July 31, 2015

School For Sidekicks by Kelly McCullough, 2015

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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.
(336 pages; Release date August 4, 2015)

All right, I'm starting on the deep end with this one: School for Sidekicks was just a little too, well, politically correct for my tastes. Evan's father had two mothers, one of the students at the school is a gender-neutral shapeshifter, a girl tries to kiss another girl - each of these were completely unnecessary to the plot, and really only served to send the not-so-subtle message of "Look at me, I'm a liberal author!" I can understand having things like that in a book when they're central to the plot or are in a book directed at the gay community, but in this case McCullough went out of his way to add them to a kid's book that totally didn't need them at all. And I'm really sad that he did that, because it totally hurt my enjoyment of the book.

Political correctness (which, I am perfectly aware, won't even bother a lot of readers) aside, School for Sidekicks is still just a little too . . . much. This is apparently McCullough's first children's book, and it's pretty obvious that he's not used to toning his material down the way you have to for MG. Besides Foxman (who, as I said, is a recovering drunkard), there are a few points where the violence becomes a bit too graphic for me. At one point, somebody literally dies a few times but is basically rebooted each time. The deaths aren't described extremely vividly, but they're still deaths and they're not exactly peaceful deaths. At another point, a professor teaches his students a class on killing bad guys with common objects they might have at hand. He goes in-depth into describing what organs you can hit when you stab which spots at which angles, and I honestly had to skip over a paragraph or two because it was getting a little too much for me. Sure, I'm a wimp, but that's not exactly the sort of thing middle-school kids should be reading about, either. There's also some pretty bad language scattered throughout, including the "D" word and the "B" word (the one for "illegitimate child").

Now let's talk about the good aspects to the book. McCullough did a good job inserting as many twists as he possibly could into the dry formula, and I really enjoyed a lot of the aspects of his take on the superhero universe. Foxman, Evan's superhero mentor and a recovering alcoholic, was my personal favorite character because he was so different from all of the other usual superhero tropes. Plus, he was hilarious! I wish I could have someone like him to talk to when I'm down. The big reveal at the end was pretty mind-blowing, too, and really makes you rethink everything. It also sets up for some very interesting sequels. I really loved Evan as well, because I could see myself in him. As a massive Harry Potter/Doctor Who fangirl, I can totally relate with his obsession with superheroes - I just wish I was lucky enough to attend Hogwarts and meet all the characters in Harry Potter, the way he attended the "School for Sidekicks" and met all his favorite heroes. Even if some of them did turn out to be total losers!

Honestly, though, I feel like the bad-to-good ratio on this one is just too high. I won't be recommending it to anyone, and I doubt I'll be reading the sequel. If the bad points I've mentioned don't turn you off, though, then you could still give it a try. I know that without them, I would definitely have really enjoyed School for Sidekicks.

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

2 comments:

  1. Hmmm. I am not a huge MG fan myself, mostly because it IS toned down for a young audience... isn't that the point? If you don't plan on writing for a MG audience, why bother?

    As for the diversity piece, I am fine with that- I love that there can be a same sex relationship that is portrayed as NBD- assuming that is what the author was going for, it's awesome. I like that it was just there because... that's life!

    Sorry this one didn't work for you :( Hope the next book you read goes better!
    Shannon @ It Starts At Midnight

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    1. Thanks, Shannon! Yeah, the point of MG is that it's supposed to be a little bit "cleaner" for younger kids. School for Sidekicks definitely felt a lot more like YA, and I'm sad it's not being advertised like that.

      Yeah, he was definitely trying to make same-sex relationships NBD. Personally, I think that MG books shouldn't have that (because there are parents out there who don't want their kids to think it's fine - and putting it into MG seems a little bit sneaky, like people are trying to slip it in around parents' backs), but I know that everyone has their own opinions about this. I tried not to come across too strongly, because I'm just here to give my honest thoughts, not to force my opinion onto everyone else.

      Thanks for stopping by, Shannon! :)

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