THIS MIGHT HURT A BIT

An irreverent journey through despondency with some minor flaws.

An angry teen works out his issues.

Tomorrow will be the 1-year anniversary of Kirby’s worst day: the day his sister Melanie died. Since then Kirby has withdrawn from the world, letting his sorrow fester as he watches Die Hard over and over again. The only personal connections Kirby still maintains are his friendships with Jake and PJ. PJ is popular and likable; Jake, on the other hand, is “a real asshole.” The three boys get together for an evening of mischief, and things quickly go south. The next day at school Kirby struggles to avoid not just his own feelings about what happened, but also the school jocks looking for payback. The ensuing novel effectively externalizes Kirby’s emotional arc as he twists and turns to push himself forward. Kirby’s sullen anger could easily become repetitive, but the author cuts it with plenty of humor and a few moments of clarity, creating an engaging read. Less artfully drawn are the tertiary characters: Kirby’s parents and the school administrators are one-note obstacles for Kirby and his friends to move around but never truly engage with. In the end, Kirby achieves his presumed catharsis and readers will feel for him, but the story isn’t as rich as it could have been. PJ is the only character whose ethnicity is mentioned (he’s Puerto Rican); all others can be assumed white.

An irreverent journey through despondency with some minor flaws. (Fiction. 12-17)

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5344-2717-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2019

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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