DARK HORSES

A soap-operatic blend of Romeo and Juliet and My Friend Flicka. Yikes.

A troubled teen finds her temporary soul mate in a troubled horse.

At Red's only race, the 3-year-old thoroughbred jumps the track rails and causes a terrific accident. Mr. de Rothschild, a wealthy white man (everyone seems to be white in this book except Luis, a Latino groom), buys him for his troubled 18-year-old daughter, Beatrice, but when, unsurprisingly, she can't handle him, he donates the horse to a therapeutic equine center he has founded. Merritt, 17, arrives there after going on the lam from her private Manhattan school's SAT. Although the patients don't actually ride the horses, Merritt rides Red, and the two form an immediate, unrealistic bond. Without any training the young horse and occasional pleasure rider are suddenly capable of tackling a course of fences. De Rothschild sees dollar signs and shoves the pair into the high-end show circuit, with Beatrice along as groom. Merritt flirts with Beatrice but falls for a dishy boy rider; Red becomes jealous; trouble ensues. The narration alternates in chapters between Merritt and Red, who comes off as an equine version of an abusive boyfriend. Von Ziegesar, known for her Gossip Girls series, nails teen dialogue and horse-show society, but her side characters are all cardboard cutouts, and her plot is a hopeless, melodramatic morass; the horse-as-thwarted-lover aspect feels icky in the extreme.

A soap-operatic blend of Romeo and Juliet and My Friend Flicka. Yikes. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-61695-517-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Soho Teen

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

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

DEAD WEDNESDAY

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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