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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For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else.

ALL THIS TIME

A modern-day fairy tale about two teenagers suffering from loss who find healing in one another.

Despite the ups and downs in their relationship, Kyle and Kimberly have always made up, and Kyle looks forward to attending college together after graduation. But on the night they should be celebrating, Kimberly confesses that she has committed to a different college and breaks up with him. As they argue, their car crashes, and Kyle later wakes up in the hospital and learns that Kimberly is dead. In his grief, Kyle blames himself for her death. He struggles to leave his bed most days, ignores calls from his and Kimberly’s best friend, Sam, and has visions of Kimberly and life before the accident. One day, while visiting Kimberly’s grave, he meets Marley, a girl who likes telling stories and is mourning the death of her twin sister. Predictably, their natural affinity for one another evolves into romance. It is unfortunate that Kyle essentially moves from one romantic relationship to another on his journey to better understanding himself and his co-dependence on those closest to him, although his gradual development into a more considerate person redeems him. The pacing remains even until the critical plot disruption, resulting in the rest of the story feeling disjointed and rushed. All characters are White.

For readers in need of a happy ending but not much else. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-6634-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli.

DEAD WEDNESDAY

For two teenagers, a small town’s annual cautionary ritual becomes both a life- and a death-changing experience.

On the second Wednesday in June, every eighth grader in Amber Springs, Pennsylvania, gets a black shirt, the name and picture of a teen killed the previous year through reckless behavior—and the silent treatment from everyone in town. Like many of his classmates, shy, self-conscious Robbie “Worm” Tarnauer has been looking forward to Dead Wed as a day for cutting loose rather than sober reflection…until he finds himself talking to a strange girl or, as she would have it, “spectral maiden,” only he can see or touch. Becca Finch is as surprised and confused as Worm, only remembering losing control of her car on an icy slope that past Christmas Eve. But being (or having been, anyway) a more outgoing sort, she sees their encounter as a sign that she’s got a mission. What follows, in a long conversational ramble through town and beyond, is a day at once ordinary yet rich in discovery and self-discovery—not just for Worm, but for Becca too, with a climactic twist that leaves both ready, or readier, for whatever may come next. Spinelli shines at setting a tongue-in-cheek tone for a tale with serious underpinnings, and as in Stargirl (2000), readers will be swept into the relationship that develops between this adolescent odd couple. Characters follow a White default.

Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-30667-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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