A sequel that destroys the goodwill established by its predecessor.


From the Caged Warrior series , Vol. 2

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: April 1, 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. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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A successful romantic enterprise.


High school seniors do the fake dating thing.

Brett Wells has always been focused on football. Brainy Becca Hart’s faith in love was destroyed by her parents’ divorce. The two have little in common other than being pestered by their friends and families about the lack of a special someone in their lives. They embark upon a “fake relationship,” but, predictably, it gives way to a real one. Debut author Light sprinkles in just enough charm and good-natured romance as the narrative bounces between Brett’s and Becca’s perspectives to keep readers engaged but not overwhelmed by twee sentiment. Becca is a much better developed character than Brett (handsome yet doofy, he has the complexity of a golden retriever), and her chapters are the novel’s highlights. Brett’s whole deal is a bigger pill to swallow, but readers who go with it will find a pleasant story. The novel is a syrupy ode to what it feels like to slowly fall for someone for the first time, and that mood is captured effectively. Becca and Brett have chemistry that feels completely natural, but sadly there are some late-in-the-game plot mechanics that feel forced. Fortunately, the author seems as uninterested in these disruptions as readers will be: Things are resolved quickly, and the novel ends on a high note. Whiteness is situated as the norm; main characters are white.

A successful romantic enterprise. (Romance. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-291805-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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