Engaging behind-the-scenes look at a lonely young Hollywood star's tragedies and triumphs.

UNSCRIPTED JOSS BYRD

A critically acclaimed child actor struggles with her insecurities, a fame-hungry momager, and a demanding director.

Twelve-year-old Joss Byrd is Hollywood's latest sensation, a “scrappy,” "wise beyond her years" young white thespian in the Dakota Fanning and Tatum O'Neal mode. On the set of ambitious director Terrance Rivenbach's gritty autobiographical coming-of-age drama, The Locals, Joss has trouble balancing her personal and professional lives. Secretly dyslexic, Joss needs her on-set tutor to skip regular lessons and help her memorize continuously revised lines. Complicating things, Joss harbors a crush on her 14-year-old screen brother, is frightened by the method co-star who plays their abusive stepfather, and is unhappy with disturbing scenes added to the script. Meanwhile, single mother Viva, who’s lost most of Joss' previous earnings, openly flirts with the married director. Through her thoughtful, unconfident main character, the author, a private tutor for school-aged actors, realistically pulls back the curtain on the difficulties professional child actors face. Unfamiliar readers may be particularly curious about O'Neal, Joss' oft-mentioned acting muse, and her unforgettable performance in Paper Moon. Although the young protagonist makes the story seem exclusively for middle graders at first glance, sympathetic Joss' journey delves into themes like living with learning disabilities, dealing with celebrity culture, sexual precocity, and understanding the difference between actors' public and private selves, broadening its audience.

Engaging behind-the-scenes look at a lonely young Hollywood star's tragedies and triumphs. (Fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62672-369-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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Fast-moving and intriguing though inconsistent on multiple fronts.

NYXIA

From the Nyxia Triad series , Vol. 1

Kids endure rigorous competition aboard a spaceship.

When Babel Communications invites 10 teens to participate in “the most serious space exploration known to mankind,” Emmett signs on. Surely it’s the jackpot: they’ll each receive $50,000 every month for life, and Emmett’s mother will get a kidney transplant, otherwise impossible for poor people. They head through space toward the planet Eden, where they’ll mine a substance called nyxia, “the new black gold.” En route, the corporation forces them into brutal competition with one another—fighting, running through violent virtual reality racecourses, and manipulating nyxia, which can become almost anything. It even forms language-translating facemasks, allowing Emmett, a black boy from Detroit, to communicate with competitors from other countries. Emmett's initial understanding of his own blackness may throw readers off, but a black protagonist in outer space is welcome. Awkward moments in the smattering of black vernacular are rare. Textual descriptions can be scanty; however, copious action and a reality TV atmosphere (the scoreboard shows regularly) make the pace flow. Emmett’s first-person voice is immediate and innocent: he realizes that Babel’s ruthless and coldblooded but doesn’t apply that to his understanding of what’s really going on. Readers will guess more than he does, though most confirmation waits for the next installment—this ends on a cliffhanger.

Fast-moving and intriguing though inconsistent on multiple fronts. (Science fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-55679-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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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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