Author C.B. Lee pronounces two things with the title of her young adult novel. First: no more relegating Asian characters to sidekicks in stories—that is, in stories that actually include Asian characters (if you’ve seen the book and movie stats, you’ll know the rates are appalling). Second, that Jessica Tran, the sixteen year old protagonist in the novel, will be the hero of her own story, thank you very much… even if she possesses no superpowers.
In the 22nd century, solar flares that sparked Word War III created meta-humans: humans who possess superpowers, such as flying or immense speed or strength. Jess, a Vietnamese-Chinese American of refugee parents, lives in Andover and comes from an extraordinary family. Her parents are Shockwave and Smasher—Andover’s most famous superheroes—her little brother is intellectually gifted, and her older sister is tipped to be the next big thing in super-heroism. But apart from Jess’s superpower of stubbornness, her real superpowers are yet to materialise. In a few weeks, she’ll no longer be sixteen, the age by which super-abilities no longer manifest.
Her birthday comes with no superpowers, just tip-toeing, painfully placating parents. Devastated she’s ordinary, Jess applies for an internship: it turns out far from ordinary. Abby, the cute girl from school, is working there, but she and co-worker M are acting strange. Could it be Jess’s boss is the city’s villain, Master Mischief—her parents’ sworn enemy? If so, should Jess keep growing closer to Abby, remain in the villain’s employment, and ‘stick it’ to her parents?
But something’s wrong with Abby—and Abby’s parents? Things go south fast. At least they have the most revered superhero, Captain Orion, on their side—but how is she entangled in the gaps in WWIII history?
What starts as an action-packed story, against a rugged and vibrant landscape, takes a soft downturn, which makes for an unhurried tale. But the action eventually accelerates and leads to a satisfying end. All in all, it’s cute and fun; a rich intersectional story with great cultural and bisexual representation.