Outrageous and uproariously funny.

A girl plots a takedown of the toxic Speech and Debate team that rules her school.

When Sydney starts at Eaganville School for the Arts, she immediately runs afoul of the powerful Speech and Debate kids due to her mouthy nature. She’s adopted by other misfits with Speech grudges—athletic Lakshmi; former Speech star Elijah; and gay theater aficionado Thomas. Sydney decides to avenge her friends by joining Speech and Debate and destroying it from the inside. To do this, she must become good enough to stay on the varsity team all the way to Nationals. The dissent Sydney and friends sow within the team involves inflaming rivalries, toying with hormones, and various other dirty tricks—luckily, the varsity team members are so odious that their punishments remain hilarious. The true villain is the win-at-all-costs abusive coach. Sydney also copes with her family’s new normal—incarcerated father, dramatically reduced socio-economic status, and her mother’s boyfriend, a meathead lunk played for laughs (until he blossoms into a surprisingly supportive and caring character). Humor infuses everything—Sydney’s narration, gleeful profanity, irreverence, and elaborate scheme sequences. The members of the highly diverse cast have distinctive voices and personalities (Sydney and Elijah are white, Lakshmi is Indian, and Thomas is black). The infiltrate-and-destroy storyline combined with immersion in a subculture that is taken with deadly hilarious seriousness make this read like the demented love child of Mean Girls and Pitch Perfect.

Outrageous and uproariously funny. (Fiction. 14-adult)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-368-01007-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion/LBYR

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020


A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind.

In this companion novel to 2013’s If He Had Been With Me, three characters tell their sides of the story.

Finn’s narrative starts three days before his death. He explores the progress of his unrequited love for best friend Autumn up until the day he finally expresses his feelings. Finn’s story ends with his tragic death, which leaves his close friends devastated, unmoored, and uncertain how to go on. Jack’s section follows, offering a heartbreaking look at what it’s like to live with grief. Jack works to overcome the anger he feels toward Sylvie, the girlfriend Finn was breaking up with when he died, and Autumn, the girl he was preparing to build his life around (but whom Jack believed wasn’t good enough for Finn). But when Jack sees how Autumn’s grief matches his own, it changes their understanding of one another. Autumn’s chapters trace her life without Finn as readers follow her struggles with mental health and balancing love and loss. Those who have read the earlier book will better connect with and feel for these characters, particularly since they’ll have a more well-rounded impression of Finn. The pain and anger is well written, and the novel highlights the most troublesome aspects of young adulthood: overconfidence sprinkled with heavy insecurities, fear-fueled decisions, bad communication, and brash judgments. Characters are cued white.

A heavy read about the harsh realities of tragedy and their effects on those left behind. (author’s note, content warning) (Fiction. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781728276229

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2024


There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.

The finely drawn characters capture readers’ attention in this debut.

Autumn and Phineas, nicknamed Finny, were born a week apart; their mothers are still best friends. Growing up, Autumn and Finny were like peas in a pod despite their differences: Autumn is “quirky and odd,” while Finny is “sweet and shy and everyone like[s] him.” But in eighth grade, Autumn and Finny stop being friends due to an unexpected kiss. They drift apart and find new friends, but their friendship keeps asserting itself at parties, shared holiday gatherings and random encounters. In the summer after graduation, Autumn and Finny reconnect and are finally ready to be more than friends. But on August 8, everything changes, and Autumn has to rely on all her strength to move on. Autumn’s coming-of-age is sensitively chronicled, with a wide range of experiences and events shaping her character. Even secondary characters are well-rounded, with their own histories and motivations.

There’s not much plot here, but readers will relish the opportunity to climb inside Autumn’s head.   (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: April 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4022-7782-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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