Rating: 4 stars
Buy Links: 
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Length: Novel

Emma Robledo is determined to unmask the corruption by the government and the Heroes League of Heroes. Now that she and her friends have found the Resistance and the Villain’s Guild is supporting them, Emma is sure they finally are on their way to victory. But it turns out that things are far more difficult than she expected. The Sidekick Squad is separated, the adults in the Villain’s Guild are not really interest in taking action, and getting anyone to listen is not easy. Not to mention that as one of the few in the Resistance without powers, Emma finds herself frequently pushed off to the side by the team leadership. Whereas she used to be the planner, the one who figured out the strategies, now no one really takes her seriously.

Fortunately, Emma still has the support of her friends, particularly her best friend and boyfriend, Bells. But as much as Emma loves Bells, she can’t help a feeling uncertainty surrounding their relationship. She doesn’t seem to want the things the other kids at school want out of dating, and she isn’t quite sure what that means.

Slowly the Resistance starts making inroads, and Emma is determined to continue spreading word about the corruption. She knows that she is a good leader, whether she has powers or not. Now Emma is ready to take a stand in the fight and not let others push her aside. If they all work together, they have hope of exposing the corruption at the highest levels.

Not Your Backup is the third book in C.B. Lee’s excellent Sidekick Squad series. I choose this book for Diverse Books Week in our Reading Challenge Month because this book (and this series) is chock full of diverse representation at pretty much every level. The stories feature a host of characters of color, and a variety of gender identities and sexual orientations. I love that even the side characters are widely diverse, including a Muslim reporter and a poly threesome. I appreciate how Lee really incorporates such a wide range of diversity and it all flows so seamlessly in the story. This is particularly important in a young adult series like this one, and this is probably one of the most overall diverse series I have ever read.

In this third book, we continue the overarching storyline regarding the corrupt government and the Heroes League of Heroes. The truth comes out about what is going on in the previous book, and now Emma and her friends are determined to spread the word. The hallmark of this series for me continues to be the incredible world building and even three books in, there are such great little details that really making things shine. Everything from the technology they use, to the way the cities are built, to the politics, to the way the government is run is just so richly detailed, it just brings these books to life.

From a plot standpoint, I did feel that this one is somewhat slower than the others. This is a long book and there just didn’t seem like enough forward movement for this point in the series. While the group does start to make some progress toward the end, we finish the book not much further along than we started. There seems to be a lot of planning, moving from place to place, undertaking small missions, etc, and it just repeats throughout the story. The book opens with a really intense scene, and the ending does bring some more excitement again, but the middle just seemed to be a little flat after the intensity of the first two books. So this one suffered a little from “middle of the series” syndrome for me.

This story gives us a new POV with Emma as our lead character. While Not Your Villain focused on Bells, as well as his feelings for Emma, this book swaps perspectives on their relationship to give us Emma’s viewpoint. The story explores Emma’s awareness that she seems to view dating and relationships differently than most of her peers, and her growing understanding that she is likely both asexual and aromantic. There is a particularly nice scene where Emma talks to Bells’ brother, as he indefinites similarly, and he helps her to sort out her feelings. Finding stories that features asexual characters is rare enough, but aromantic ones as well really makes this one unique. I particularly loved that Lee explores this in a young adult book.

Even though Emma is not sure she has sexual or romantic feelings for Bells, she still loves him and wants to continue a relationship with him. While the relationship is not at the forefront of this story, I think that works great here as most of this book is about Emma finding herself in her role as a leader, as a human without powers, and in her sexual identity. I do wish we had a little more of Bells involved in the discussion as Emma focuses on what what her sexual/romantic identity means for their relationship, however. The previous book deals with Bells’ feelings for Emma, and so I would have liked to see them explore more together what Emma’s feelings mean for them as a couple, particularly since they are continuing their relationship.

Overall, this series is really outstanding. It is rich with diversity, wonderful world building, and great characters. I do feel like the plot stalled a little too much here, but the book left me eager to see how things all play out as the series continues. I’ll definitely be following along.

This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Diverse Books Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win one of six $20 NineStar Press gift cards from the fabulous folks at NineStar Press! Commenters will also be entered to win one of our three amazing Grand Prize book bundles. You can get more information on our Challenge Month here (including all the contest rules) and more details on Diverse Books Week here