SELF. DESTRUCTED.

From the Gravel Road series

A readable and timely tale that covers a lot of ground.

In a sparse and simply written cautionary tale, Michael Ellis brings a gun to school to scare a girl who has rejected him.

Events move quickly in this fast-paced narrative. One moment, Michael and Ashley are talking in the school hallway. A chapter or two later, they’re going on dates, and just shortly after that, Michael thoughtlessly insults Ashley’s taste in music, and she distances herself from him. The narrative hints as to what’s happening in Michael’s mind and why—insecurities about being from the poor side of town, impulsive anger Michael doesn’t entirely understand himself, a fixation on Ashley that readers may find troubling even though Michael does not—but immediate thoughts and actions rather than emotional analysis are the focus here. When Michael brings his father’s gun to school, he is arrested before any shots can be fired. The second half of the book shows Michael’s life in a juvenile-detention facility, where he largely keeps to himself, and then at Savage Continuation School, “a school for misfits.” A great amount of time elapses in relatively few words, and consequently, Michael’s life and emotional state seem to change somewhat quickly. Readers who discuss or analyze Michael’s journey, however, will find plenty to talk and think about.

A readable and timely tale that covers a lot of ground. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62250-722-1

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Saddleback Educational Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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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