An unbalanced but still effective tear-jerker.

MR. 60%

A high school drug dealer learns some harsh truths.

Matt Nolan has been doing the bare minimum to get by in school, and he’s close to graduating with a grade average just above the state-mandated 60 percent. The only reason Matt shows up to school is to sling drugs to the teenage client pool that other drug dealers can’t get to. The vice principal has plenty of circumstantial evidence against Matt and is frothing at the mouth to catch him red-handed, but the authorities don’t know that Matt is using the proceeds to take care of his beloved uncle. Jack took Matt in when Matt had nowhere to go, and the pair lives in a cramped trailer while Jack slowly dies of cancer. The author weaves a desperate tale filled with money problems, emotional baggage, and a compelling central character. Unfortunately the peripheral characters are fairly thin. Uncle Jack is a kindhearted, proud guy and not much else. Amanda, the plus-sized pariah who befriends Matt, is a voice of support that stretches credulity. These thin characters and the cartoonishly evil vice principal conflict harshly with the author’s exploration of Matt’s isolationist complex. The novel is well-structured, moving quickly between beats but not rushing. This is a laser-focused book, interested in exploring fear and grief regardless of other shortcomings; casting his characters as white ensures that this focus remains fixed.

An unbalanced but still effective tear-jerker. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-553-53466-5

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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Several yards short of a touchdown.


A transgender boy starting over at a new school falls hard for a popular cheerleader with a reputation to protect in this debut.

On the first day of senior year, transgender boy Pony locks eyes with cisgender cheerleader Georgia. They both have pasts they want to leave behind. No one at Hillcrest High knows that Pony is transgender, and he intends to keep it that way. Georgia’s last boyfriend shook her trust in boys, and now she’s determined to forget him. As mutual attraction draws them together, Pony and Georgia must decide what they are willing to risk for a relationship. Pony’s best friend, Max, who is also transgender, disapproves of Pony’s choice to live stealth; this disagreement leads to serious conflict in their relationship. Meanwhile, Georgia and Pony behave as if Pony’s trans identity was a secret he was lying to her about rather than private information for him to share of his own volition. The characters only arrive at a hopeful resolution after Pony pays high physical and emotional prices. McSmith places repeated emphasis on the born-in-the-wrong-body narrative when the characters discuss trans identities. Whiteness is situated as the norm, and all main characters are white.

Several yards short of a touchdown. (Fiction. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-294317-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Breezy, silly, unremarkable fun.


From the Final Six series , Vol. 2

This sequel to The Final Six (2018) raises the stakes for its spacefaring teen astronauts.

Naomi Ardalan and the other Final Six are on their journey to colonize Jupiter’s moon Europa, leading the way for humans to eventually leave a dying Earth. Naomi is the only one in the group who knows that the leaders of the International Space Training Camp are keeping the truth from them, and it is down to her to discover whether there is alien life on Europa before they land. Back on Earth, and unbeknownst to the crew, left-behind recruit Leo Danieli works with genius doctor Greta Wagner to launch a solo mission to intercept and join Naomi’s ship in order to bring them news that not only is there definitely life on Europa, but they are set to land in its most dangerous zone. As the two missions and alternating narratives converge, the unthinkable happens—and everything changes. Fast-paced and plot-driven, the novel decidedly veers into science fiction horror territory with plenty of scares that readers willing to suspend disbelief and embrace the teenagers-in-space setup are likely to enjoy. The syrupy romance between Leo and Naomi continues, and a new layer is added to the story with a frustratingly too-brief examination of colonization and first contact. Naomi is Iranian American, Leo is Italian, and the human cast is international.

Breezy, silly, unremarkable fun. (Science fiction horror. 14-17)

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-265897-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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