INSIGNIA

From the Insignia series , Vol. 1

Derivative and sometimes a little silly, but good fun nevertheless.

An unlikely teen is selected to attend Hogwarts-at-the-Pentagon.

Tom has spent most of his life casino-hopping with his ne'er-do-well father. His only real pleasure is virtual-reality gaming, and his mad skillz bring him to the attention of the U.S. Intrasolar Forces. In short order he is off to the Pentagonal Spire to train to become a Camelot Company Combatant: one of the elite teen "warriors" who pilot the remote spacecraft that wage World War III bloodlessly in space. The Indo-Americans and the Russo-Chinese are propped up by multinationals that fund the enterprise; the neural processors implanted in the kids’ brains—not to mention war itself—aren't cheap. Tom quickly makes friends (warm and funny boy, Asperger's-like girl, goofy boy) and enemies (vicious boy, borderline-crazy professor). He also comes to the attention of his mother's horrible boyfriend, an executive in a multinational that wants a pawn on the inside of CamCo. In addition to obvious echoes of Ender's Game and Harry Potter, debut novelist Kincaid weaves in hefty helpings of Cory Doctorow–like philosophy: "What, you think the American sheeple are going to question the corporatocracy?" Tom's father says memorably. With action, real humor and a likable, complex protagonist, this fast-moving, satisfying adventure also provides some food for thought.

Derivative and sometimes a little silly, but good fun nevertheless. (Science fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: July 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-209299-1

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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

OUT OF CHARACTER

Despite the well-meaning warmth, a wearying plod.

Can a 17-year-old with her first girlfriend prevent real-life folks from discovering her online fandoms?

Cass is proudly queer, happily fat, and extremely secretive about being a fan who role-plays on Discord. Back in middle school, she had what she calls a gaming addiction, playing “The Sims” so much her parents had to take the game away. Now, turning to her role-play friends to cope with her fighting parents, she worries that people will judge her for her fannishness and online life. To be fair, her grades are suffering. And sure, maybe she’s missed a college application deadline. Also, her mom has suddenly left Minneapolis and moved to Maine to be with a man she met online. But on the other hand, Cass is finally dating her amazingly cute longtime crush, Taylor. Pansexual Taylor is a gamer, a little bit punk, White like Cass, and so, so great—but she still can’t help comparing her to Rowan, Cass’ online best friend and role-playing ship partner. But Rowan doesn’t want to be a dirty little secret and doesn’t see why Cass can’t be honest about this part of her life. The inevitable train wreck of her lies looms on the horizon for months in an overlong morality play building to the climax that includes tidy resolutions to all the character arcs that are quite heartwarming but, in the case of Cass’ estranged mother, narratively unearned.

Despite the well-meaning warmth, a wearying plod. (Fiction. 13-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-06-324332-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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