Smart, insightful and brimming with earned optimism. (Fiction. 12-16)

CAGED WARRIOR

From the Caged Warrior series , Vol. 1

McCutcheon “M.D.” Daniels has one dream: to get out of poverty-stricken Detroit. His golden ticket? The violent, underground sport of mixed martial arts.

M.D.’s alcoholic, has-been father coaches him to win fights and impress the Priests, gangsters that run all the MMA action in the city. His younger sister, Gem, is the one ray of sunshine in a world Sitomer paints as ruthless and needlessly cruel. The hope for a better life juxtaposes sharply with reality; it’s constantly on the verge of bursting, an idea the author presents with great aplomb. M.D.’s gritty, vernacular narration goes beyond typical teen angst and captures the true spirit of the lowest class, a downtrodden world long left behind by the rest of American culture. When the teen begins to notice the damaging, cyclical nature of pessimism, he makes plays that he hopes will remove him from the clutches of his father and the Priests. The reactions to these moves are both explosive and engaging. The book is a brisk read, made all the more appealing by the author’s blend of heartfelt sentiment and sensational sports drama. The multiple fight sequences are tightly constructed, and none of the more emotional moments are overwrought. This is swift storytelling, offering little fuss but plenty to chew on.

Smart, insightful and brimming with earned optimism. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: May 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4231-7124-9

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

A teenage, not-so-lonely loner endures the wilds of high school in Austin, Texas.

Norris Kaplan, the protagonist of Philippe’s debut novel, is a hypersweaty, uber-snarky black, Haitian, French-Canadian pushing to survive life in his new school. His professor mom’s new tenure-track job transplants Norris mid–school year, and his biting wit and sarcasm are exposed through his cataloging of his new world in a field guide–style burn book. He’s greeted in his new life by an assortment of acquaintances, Liam, who is white and struggling with depression; Maddie, a self-sacrificing white cheerleader with a heart of gold; and Aarti, his Indian-American love interest who offers connection. Norris’ ego, fueled by his insecurities, often gets in the way of meaningful character development. The scenes showcasing his emotional growth are too brief and, despite foreshadowing, the climax falls flat because he still gets incredible personal access to people he’s hurt. A scene where Norris is confronted by his mother for getting drunk and belligerent with a white cop is diluted by his refusal or inability to grasp the severity of the situation and the resultant minor consequences. The humor is spot-on, as is the representation of the black diaspora; the opportunity for broader conversations about other topics is there, however, the uneven buildup of detailed, meaningful exchanges and the glibness of Norris’ voice detract.

Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-282411-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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A smart, timely outing.

RADIO SILENCE

Two teens connect through a mysterious podcast in this sophomore effort by British author Oseman (Solitaire, 2015).

Frances Janvier is a 17-year-old British-Ethiopian head girl who is so driven to get into Cambridge that she mostly forgoes friendships for schoolwork. Her only self-indulgence is listening to and creating fan art for the podcast Universe City, “a…show about a suit-wearing student detective looking for a way to escape a sci-fi, monster-infested university.” Aled Last is a quiet white boy who identifies as “partly asexual.” When Frances discovers that Aled is the secret creator of Universe City, the two embark on a passionate, platonic relationship based on their joint love of pop culture. Their bond is complicated by Aled’s controlling mother and by Frances’ previous crush on Aled’s twin sister, Carys, who ran away last year and disappeared. When Aled’s identity is accidently leaked to the Universe City fandom, he severs his relationship with Frances, leaving her questioning her Cambridge goals and determined to win back his affection, no matter what the cost. Frances’ narration is keenly intelligent; she takes mordant pleasure in using an Indian friend’s ID to get into a club despite the fact they look nothing alike: “Gotta love white people.” Though the social-media–suffused plot occasionally lags, the main characters’ realistic relationship accurately depicts current issues of gender, race, and class.

A smart, timely outing. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-233571-5

Page Count: 496

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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