By Jack D. Farraiolo
320 Pages, Amulet Books, $16.95
There’s been a lot of material produced about super-heroes for the very young, such as the popular Captain Underpants, and obviously for the young at heart of varying ages. But, there has been precious little prose about people with powers and abilities for the young adult reader so Jack D. Farraiolo’s Sidekicks is a welcome addition. In a world where costumed heroes and villains are commonplace, Phantom Justice is one the most revered crimefighters of all. For years now, he has been battling all manner of foe, aided by the colorfully-clad Bright Boy. The adolescent sidekick, though, is beginning the chafe at being stuck in a costume designed for a much younger boy. His world comes crashing down when, after rescuing a woman from the dreaded Rogue Warrior, his tight outfit reveals just how excited his latest mission has left him.
Embarrased, he demands a new outfit but Phantom Justice refuses, setting up a rift between mentor and ward. Instead, he’s entirely focused on the latest threat from his greatest foe, the deadly Doctor Chaotic, forcing Scott Hutchinson to fend for himself. Upset at seeing his fellow middle schoolers giggle at the video rerunning the moment endlessly on the internet, Scott is a walking timebomb, in need of serious distraction. Fortunately, a conflict with Chaotic and his masked assistant Monkeywrench presents itself but during the battle, he learns Monkeywrench’s secret, rocking his world.
Farraiolo, known for his WordGirl on PBS, doesn’t miss a super-heroic archetype. Brooding avenger of the night. (Normally) happy go lucky sidekick. Butler and confidant. Arch foe. The world in danger. It’s all here. But what the author deftly does is take every cliché and turn it on its collective head so nothing is as it seems (until the final twist, which you see coming 50 pages before). As a result, Sidekicks is a delightful, breezy read that brings school experiences to life. You laugh and cringe along with Scott while the larger story unfolds in original ways.
Yes, it’s good versus evil and the struggles of a teen en route to manhood, but he does it with affection and keeps the plot moving along faster than a speeding bullet. It’s also a story of young love and how deep and enduring it can be, another factor the intended audience will respond to. With summer reading time upon us, kids 10-14 would do well to check out this offering.