Not Your Backup by CB Lee. Interlude Press. 2019.
Content Warnings for review: discusses internalized aro spec and ace spec antagonism
Note: I’m reviewing this in conjunction with Purple day for
#PrideLibrary19. This book was part of my #PrideLibrary19 TBR and I’m reviewing it on Purple day because it has a gorgeous purple cover! Here is my other Purple day post.
Not Your Backup is the third installment in a queer YA superhero series that I adore, and I think it might be my favorite. It has a lovely aroace questioning arc that runs parallel to the resist the corrupt government arc, and resolves to a queerplatonic relationship with the person who started out as the MC’s boyfriend. It’s about friendship, identity, finding your place in activist movement, and it’s such a hopeful book to have right now in 2019.
Unlike book 2, this starts where the last book left off and doesn’t repeat anything from the prior book from Emma’s POV. Instead, we begin with an action sequence, where the Resistance is on a mission that Emma planned. This is a great way to introduce the characters, and as someone who has not yet finished book 2, I didn’t feel like I was missing much at all. It does spoil book 1 and 2, so it’s probably best to read them in order, but I do think that if that doesn’t bother you, its fairly simple to pick up what’s going on without that context.
This centers Emma, who is not a meta-human (superhero), and her struggles to find a place within the resistance movement, both with her peers who are metahumans and also among metahuman adults. It shows her grappling with the fact that her talents lend themselves to planning and being in charge, while most metahuman adults think she has no place in the movement and some take her ideas and present them as their own. It’s such a perfect thing for a YA to be grappling with, especially in this historical moment, and I thought her arc around this was very well done. I especially appreciated watching her engage with the adults in the longstanding underground movement, and how she makes some mistakes that are pretty classic for newer activists in the process. Emma is not perfect, she’s also inexperienced, and she has limits to her capacity, all of which frustrate her to no end. What resonated the most for me as a reader thinking about my own self as teen was the way it was so hard to get adults to listen to her and take her seriously. I know some readers were frustrated by the way the story had less action than the other books in some ways, because of this aspect of Emma’s reality, but I actually thought it worked really well, and was an important story to tell. I was engaged enough that I got frustrated with her at all the ways she was left out of things.
My favorite part of the story, however, was Emma slowly exploring aro spec and ace spec identity, as she tried to figure herself out and decide what she wanted her relationship with Bells to be. I loved that he was supportive of her taking her time to figure it out, and I especially appreciated that she had someone else who was on the aro and ace spectrums to talk it over with. I liked that all of this exploration took place within a society that was generally accepting of ace spec and aro spec identities, that these things were part of school curriculum and general knowledge. It was such a relief to get to imagine that kind of world, and to witness Emma’s moments of internalized aro spec and ace spec antagonism from that context. As someone who myself has recently had a lengthy slow questioning around my own ace spec and aro spec identities, I really loved that Emma had all this support and wasn’t rushed through things. Her questioning process resonated a lot for me, and I especially appreciated that it was taking place while she was dating someone, and that he was supportive, as I know that this kind of questioning while in a relationship can feel fraught and loaded. I was so happy to see that the relationship resolves to a queerplatonic one; it made me really happy to see that named on the page and spelled out super clearly.
It was really refreshing to read a story from the POV of a character who was dating a trans teen boy, where his transness was literally not an issue at all. As a trans reader, it felt really good to read that kind of incidental representation. It made me want to circle back and finish Not Your Villain (which I paused in reading for my own reasons, not because of the book), so I am adding it back to my TBR. I am also really looking forward to reading the next installment in the series; there is clearly more story here before the series arc is resolved, and I’m excited for it.
This book left me feeling hopeful in so many ways, and I’m so glad I read it this week. These books are really great, and I am so grateful that they exist. I cannot even describe how much it would have meant to me to read this series–and especially this book–as a teenager. (I didn’t really learn about ace spec and aro spec identities until I was in my 40s!)
- Latinx aroace questioning teen girl MC.
- Black trans teen boy secondary character.
- Chinese-Vietnamese biracial bisexual girl secondary character.
- Queer girl secondary character with trauma.
- Chinese-Vietnamese biracial bisexual woman author.
Content Warnings For the Book (in white, highlight to read)
Hand to hand fighting. Kidnapping. Car crash. Involuntary drugging. Off page minor character death. Explosions. Natural disaster. Fire. References to non-consensual medical testing and procedures. Internalized queer antagonism as part of an ace spec and aro spec questioning arc. Characters have trauma from events in prior books; one of the secondary characters is dealing with substantial trauma symptoms.
- Source of the book: ARC from the publisher via NetGalley
- I have had some contact with the author on Twitter.
- All links to Amazon will be affiliate ones. If you buy through those links, I will make a small amount of money on that sale (which I plan to use to buy more books to review), but it will not add any to the cost of your product. It comes out of the company’s profits.
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