Sonderbooks Book Review of


by John David Anderson

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by John David Anderson

Review posted 2/14/2014.
Walden Pond Press (HarperCollins), 2013. 373 pages.
Starred Review
2013 Cybils Finalist

Reading this book makes me especially glad that I got to be a Cybils Middle Grade Speculative Fiction judge this year, because I probably wouldn't have picked it up without that motivation. And I'm so glad I did.

This is a superhero book, which I'm not necessarily a fan of, but it has a lot of depth, an exciting plot, and realistic enough details, you can believe it would happen that way.

Andrew Bean is a sidekick, the Sensationalist. The book opens with him hanging over a pool of acid next to his best friend, Jenna, in her sidekick identity as the Silver Fox. Fortunately, Jenna's Superhero comes and saves them both. Drew's Super, the Titan, has never shown up when Drew needs him.

I suppose you'll want to hear about where I come from, and where I got my powers, and what radioactive bug I was bitten by, and all of that junk. You'll want to know that my father was a researcher for a top-secret government program studying the properties of dark matter or that my mother was really an Amazon princess blessed with godlike powers. But the truth is, my father is an accountant -- not a fake accountant masquerading as a costumed vigilante, but a real honest-to-god, dull-as-a-dictionary accountant with a closet full of white shirts and a carefully managed pension. My mother is an aide at Brookview Elementary -- an aide because she got pregnant with me while in college and never finished her teaching degree. Neither of them has any superpowers, unless you count my father's ability to calculate tips instantly or my mother's uncanny ability to forget I'm not four anymore, sometimes still wiping the corner of my mouth with a napkin damp with her own spit the way she did when I was a toddler.

The truth is, I was born the way I am, without gamma rays, without cosmic intervention, without a flashback episode explaining my secret origins. I was born with a condition -- doctors were careful to call it a condition and not a disease -- called hypersensatia, which basically just allows me to see and smell and hear things better than most people. And when I say most people, I mean better than six billion other people. In fact, there are apparently fewer than five hundred people who have this condition, and none of them to the same extent as me. That makes me special, I suppose, though I prefer to think of myself as one of a kind.

Drew is part of a program at Highview Middle School for training Sidekicks called H.E.R.O. - Highview Environmental Revitalization Organization. Their job is to keep trash off the streets. ("Sometimes it's the thing that's right in front of you that you keep looking over.")

Now, Drew's super power of extraordinary senses isn't the greatest in a fight. He has a utility belt, but that's only useful if he's wearing it. A new kid named Gavin has joined the program. He sweats a substance that encases him in protective rock-like armor. Gavin is a member of the football team and seems to be impressing Jenna, while Drew is working on distinguishing the difference between certain smells.

Meanwhile, the Dealer, a supervillain everyone thought the Titan had killed years ago, comes back from the dead (apparently) and breaks his surviving henchmen out of prison -- the Jack of Clubs, the Jack of Spades, and the Jack of Diamonds. Drew finds the Titan -- in a bar -- but he refuses to help. And one by one, the superheroes of the city of Justicia get removed. Only Jenna's superhero, the Silver Fox, seems able to deal with them.

But then the Jacks go after the sidekicks of H.E.R.O., apparently trying to use them as bait to catch their heroes. Of course with Drew that doesn't work, but he almost dies along the way. But how did the Jacks know their secret identities? Who leaked that information? Whom can they trust?

It all works out to a thrilling conclusion that will keep the reader turning pages. I liked the realistic touches. Like our protagonist would have a superpower that doesn't help him much in a fight. And Drew has regular middle school concerns like what is being served in the cafeteria, getting out of gym class, and what to wear on his first date. This book makes fun reading with a whole lot of suspense thrown in.