Full disclosure: Sky High and The Incredibles are two of my favourite movies, so any superhero book will inevitably be compared to these movies!
A superhero tale for Middle Grade readers, it stars a group of sixth grade kids, with super-powers, who want to be accepted on to the side kick mentoring program run by local superheroes, the Guardians. When their town, Nexus City, is attacked by an evil villain, and the Guardians are either away or held captive, it’s up to these kids to try and save the city and everyone in it.
The story is told in the first person by 12-year-old Ethan. Ethan’s older brother, Wyatt, is already a member of the Guardians, to the great joy of their parents. Ethan, a whiz with technology, is determined to prove himself to be just as good as, if not better than, his brother. The problem is nobody rates Ethan’s super power very highly, but when Nexus City is in trouble, it’s Ethan and his friends’ chance to shine.
I liked the kids. There’s a good camaraderie between all the friends, and I liked how they joined forces with class bullies against the enemy. In general, the kids powers are standard superhero fare: super-strength, master of illusion, ability to liquify etc. Gemma’s crazy colourful clothes and hero worship for Golden Speedster made her my favourite character, although I would also have liked to have seen more of shy Alexander (master of illusions) and quiet Willow (who can control plants). Gemma’s superpower is manipulating fabric, and she regularly extends her sleeves to trip or tie up opponents, which gets put to good use in this story.
Ethan, determined to save his family, pulls the group together to take on the supervillain, who is also a technical genius and mind controller. Unfortunately I struggled to get a handle on Ethan’s superpower. It’s described as the ability ‘to take anything and turn it into some kind of invention.’ For this to be a superpower in a world where kids can turn into animals, makes themselves invisible, or conjure illusions so good they fool everyone, I expected Ethan to instantly understand how technology worked so he could disable things immediately, and that his inventions would be successful on the first attempt. Instead it was a case of trial and error, with no detail given other than fiddling with buttons when dealing with the villain’s contraptions or trying to use ‘kill code’ on computers. Ultimately this made for a disappointing finale, as I expected both Ethan and the villain to be more along the lines of Royal Pain (Sky High) or Syndrome (the Incredibles), or even more advanced (given how technology has advanced even since those movies), rather than resorting to unplugging desktop computers.
Perhaps if it had been one of the minor characters with this ability, it would not have mattered, but as it’s the strength of both the hero and the villain, it seems important to have the superpower with some substance to it. Of course, if you are new to the superhero genre or have zero knowledge of technology, this may not bother you, but TOTP and myself both wanted more.
Overall the writing is smooth, the pacing is good, the characters are likeable, the tone is light, so it’s a pity the ending is such a disappointment.
TOTP (also a Sky High fan) awards Rise of the Sidekicks six out of ten Diamonds.