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From the Caged Warrior series , Vol. 2

A sequel that destroys the goodwill established by its predecessor.

A teenage mixed martial arts genius works covert ops for the U.S. government.

It's been 10 months since the witness protection program whisked McCutcheon "M.D." Daniels and his little sister away from their miserable lives in Detroit. In that time, M.D. has been working with the military, training in the arts of black ops, and occasionally going into the field and using his unique set of skills to catch predators. Meanwhile, back home, the Priests have targeted M.D.'s abandoned flame and his father in efforts to draw the boy that got away out from hiding. It all comes to a head with an undercover M.D. entering Jentles State Prison, a facility notorious for breaking prisoners beyond imagination. Sitomer's Caged Warrior (2014) was an exciting action thriller that leaned into its darkest elements in smart, interesting ways. Unfortunately this sequel can't pull off the same balancing act. This scenario involving top-secret government agencies and Supermax prisons is completely removed from the reality established in the previous book. Instead of escalating the stakes, the author has blown them up to comic-book levels. When everything is so big and so tough and so gritty and so violent, there's no room for hope, nor is there much room for reader engagement. The book concludes with a beat that feels cribbed from The Shawshank Redemption and a hint at further books. Few readers will want to follow.

A sequel that destroys the goodwill established by its predecessor. (Thriller. 12-16)

Pub Date: July 21, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4847-0528-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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

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. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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

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: May 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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