Vortex: Insignia, Book 2

Book review by
Kate Pavao, Common Sense Media
Vortex: Insignia, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Dystopian sequel is long, thought-provoking, action packed.

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Kids say

age 12+
Based on 4 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will find a lot to think about in Vortex, including the impact of technology on freedom, how to best protest injustice, and even what it really means to be a good friend. See our discussion questions for ideas about how to get your teens to use this book to think about deeper questions.

Positive Messages

There are messages throughout about being loyal to friends, and about doing the right thing, even when it's hard to do and risks your personal safety.

Positive Role Models & Representations

At the beginning of Vortex, Tom acts recklessly, but he grows up, learning how to be more strategic in getting what he wants (but also when to use his natural impulsiveness and daring to help a friend in desperate need). 


Tom and his friends are often in peril. In simulation video games, they often die in terrible ways (including being eaten by sharks, beaten by cavemen, etc.). In real life, a teen girl is murdered when she is sucked down a tunnel. Tom almost freezes to death when he's intentionally locked out of a building in Antarctica. The main bad guy in Vortex blows up the computer implant in a teen's brain, causing him to be in a coma. Tom describes robotic security guards that can kill in numerous ways.


Some kissing between the main characters, including Tom and Medusa. Vik and his girlfriend sneak into a room together to be alone. Characters think about "boobs," mention having other fantasies. There's  a reference to a nude swimming pool. A male character admits to  having a boyfriend, but broke up with him after pressure from the military.


Characters use Jesus and God as exclamations, think about "boobs," and some characters are called "moron" and "idiot."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some adult characters drink, including Tom's father, who's described as an alcoholic.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Vortex is the second book in S.J. Kincaid's Insignia trilogy about teens recruited by a powerful coalition government to fight in World War III battles; they all have computer implants in their brains making them super smart -- and super valuable. Tom and his friends are often in peril. In simulation video games, they often die in terrible ways (including being eaten by sharks, beaten by cavemen, etc.). In real life, a teen girl is murdered when she is sucked down a tunnel and Tom almost freezes to death when he is intentionally locked out of a building in Antarctica. And that's just the, um, tip of the iceberg. There's also some smooching between teen lovebirds, as well as rather benign references to "boobs" and a nude swimming pool. There is an anti-corporate message throughout, as Tom grows increasingly successful in shutting down the conglomerates that run the world. Teens will be encouraged to think about the best way to fight for justice, technology's impact on privacy, and more.

User Reviews

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  • Kids say

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Kid, 12 years old June 26, 2014

I couldn't put it down!

I could not put Insignia down for two seconds! I thought this book was absolutely astounding and anyone who think's they might be the slightest bit interes... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byLancelot June 26, 2014

Read Vortex

SJ Kincaid really is an amazing author. She writes beautifully through the series. (So far...) I can't wait for Catalyst.

What's the story?

Tom's still a soldier in training to be an Intrasolar Combatant in World War III, dealing with a computer in his brain that gives him a photographic memory and secret, special power: The ability to enter and interact with any computer system. He's also dealing with conflicted feelings: He wants to have a secure future as a sponsored combatant, but he loathes the inhumane corporations that provide sponsorship -- and run the world. When Tom refuses to pass on a computer virus to Medusa, a talented combatant on the other side who shares his amazing ability, he faces consequences that may kill him -- and help him decide what side he's truly on.

Is it any good?

There's a lot to track, but if readers take their time, they will find the world S.J. Kincaid has created here very complete and the characters convincingly complicated. Readers who haven't read the first book in the series, Insignia -- or even those who haven't done a recent refresher -- may have a hard time remembering all the important plot points from the first book when reading VORTEX.

The other thing that's hard? This book is looonnng. There are tons of details about the various video game simulations, the futuristic world that Tom lives in -- and lots of intrigue as Tom tries to figure out how to protect himself, his friends, and the world. Tom is both impulsive and reckless, as well as innovative and brave. Readers won't be able to predict what he's going to do -- or even what he should do in many situations. This makes the book feel real and suspenseful.

Most important, as with all good dystopia, readers will be able to see pieces of our current society in Vortex -- such as our increasing dependence on technology like drones -- and they'll be encouraged to think about some pretty tough issues.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the best way to fight injustice. Is it more effective to make change by shouting against the system -- or working from within it?

  • What do you think will happen in the final book in the Insignia trilogy? Do you plan to read it? Why do you think there are so many young adult stories are told in series rather than stand-alone books? 

  • What do you think about the future predicted in Vortex, with ever-present drones, retina scans, and robotic security guards? Are today's technological advances making us less free?

Book details

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For kids who love Science fiction and fantasy

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