A sequel that destroys the goodwill established by its predecessor.

NOBLE WARRIOR

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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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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A successful romantic enterprise.

THE UPSIDE OF FALLING

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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