Comic-book fans like to talk about how much they hate sidekicks. No one dreams about being Robin. They want to grow up to be Batman. But it turns out that a sidekick is the perfect metaphor for adolescence.
Sidekicks are smart, energetic and imaginative—and they have no authority at all. They can’t drive or vote, but they can shoot electric bolts out of their fingertips. Anderson’s main character is a sidekick named Andrew Bean. Like the best superheroes, he’s down on his luck, always forgetting his utility belt when he needs it. Andrew is part of a school environmental club, H.E.R.O., that—in the novel’s best joke—doubles as a training program for sidekicks (motto: “WE KEEP THE TRASH OFF THE STREETS”). Andrew’s mentor is the Titan, an aging hero who’d rather go out drinking than fight crime. The novel’s real theme is disillusionment. Before the last chapter, Andrew will have his heart broken more than once. The best superheroes always do. The book’s big plot twists are never much of a surprise, but the smaller revelations are deeply moving. The secret that tore apart the Legion of Justice, which the now-dissolute Titan used to lead, turns out to be very simple and very sad.
In the end, the tale is so heartbreaking that it’s the perfect training manual for superheroes everywhere. And that means all of us. (Fantasy. 9-12)