A mean-girl story with a big heart and soul.

FROSTED KISSES

Penny, from The Cupcake Queen (2009), endures barbs thrown by her bullying nemesis, Charity, but further trouble emerges when a new exchange student seems bent on stealing Penny’s boyfriend.

Penny's darn busy—when she's not at school, she's working at her mother's cupcake shop or helping her best friend, Tally, with odd jobs in order to raise funds to save the local animal shelter from closing. Meanwhile, her burgeoning relationship with Marcus renders her completely giddy, and she dreams that he'll be her first sweet kiss. But when Penny sees Marcus hanging out with Esmeralda, the gorgeous, new Parisian foreign exchange student, and later with Charity, she falls into worry and uncertainty. And to top it off, her parents are newly divorced, the holidays are approaching, and Penny's dealing with her increasing anger toward her father, who perennially breaks his promises to visit. A number of miniplotlines dilute the story's focus: among others, Penny suffers a concussion, but nothing comes of it save a few missed days of school, and her art teacher's relationship with a visiting artist seems suspiciously close. But as in her first outing, Penny's voice charms; she's keenly observant and wry, balancing surely between young innocence and burgeoning bravery. Readers will cheer the ultimate delivery of a satisfying, heaping dose of justice on the guilty.

A mean-girl story with a big heart and soul. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-545-79055-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Point/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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Despite some missteps, this will appeal to readers who enjoy a fresh and realistic teen voice.

THE FIELD GUIDE TO THE NORTH AMERICAN TEENAGER

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. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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A successful romantic enterprise.

THE UPSIDE OF FALLING

High school seniors do the fake dating thing.

Brett Wells has always been focused on football. Brainy Becca Hart’s faith in love was destroyed by her parents’ divorce. The two have little in common other than being pestered by their friends and families about the lack of a special someone in their lives. They embark upon a “fake relationship,” but, predictably, it gives way to a real one. Debut author Light sprinkles in just enough charm and good-natured romance as the narrative bounces between Brett’s and Becca’s perspectives to keep readers engaged but not overwhelmed by twee sentiment. Becca is a much better developed character than Brett (handsome yet doofy, he has the complexity of a golden retriever), and her chapters are the novel’s highlights. Brett’s whole deal is a bigger pill to swallow, but readers who go with it will find a pleasant story. The novel is a syrupy ode to what it feels like to slowly fall for someone for the first time, and that mood is captured effectively. Becca and Brett have chemistry that feels completely natural, but sadly there are some late-in-the-game plot mechanics that feel forced. Fortunately, the author seems as uninterested in these disruptions as readers will be: Things are resolved quickly, and the novel ends on a high note. Whiteness is situated as the norm; main characters are white.

A successful romantic enterprise. (Romance. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-291805-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperTeen

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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