Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Stand-Off (Winger #2) by Andrew Smith

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Reviewed by Bel

It’s his last year at Pine Mountain, and Ryan Dean should be focused on his future, but instead, he’s haunted by his past. His rugby coach expects him to fill the roles once played by his lost friend, Joey, as the rugby team’s stand-off and new captain. And somehow he’s stuck rooming with twelve-year-old freshman Sam Abernathy, a cooking whiz with extreme claustrophobia and a serious crush on Annie Altman—aka Ryan Dean’s girlfriend, for now, anyway.

Equally distressing, Ryan Dean’s doodles and drawings don’t offer the relief they used to. He’s convinced N.A.T.E. (the Next Accidental Terrible Experience) is lurking around every corner—and then he runs into Joey’s younger brother Nico, who makes Ryan Dean feel paranoid that he’s avoiding him. Will Ryan Dean ever regain his sanity?

From the author of the National Book Award–nominated 100 Sideways Miles, which Kirkus Reviews called “a wickedly witty and offbeat novel,” Stand-Off is filled with hand-drawn infographics and illustrations and delivers the same spot-on teen voice and relatable narrative that legions of readers connected with in Winger.

Ryan Dean is now a senior at ripe young age of fifteen. Things are a bit different in the year since losing Joey. He and Annie are officially dating now; O Hall, his former dorm is closed, as a result he now has to reside on the first floor of a different dorm with a new roommate. Here’s the rub: this new kid, Sam Abernathy is only twelve. Not only does Ryan Dean have to bear the embarrassment of being the only senior on the first floor but he’s now stuck with a pre-pubescent kid! The powers that be thought it’d be a good idea for Sam to room with him since he himself was the youngest kid at the school. Ryan Dean has no interest in being friendly to him. He looks at Sam aka The Abernathy (also called a host of other ridiculous names he assigns him) as an outsider. Still dealing with the loss of his best friend, Joey last year, Ryan Dean has this constant dread looming over him that the worst is going to happen at any moment.

Rugby which usually provides some kind of solace for Ryan Dean has now become a weight on his shoulders. When his coach asks him to be the new team captain, replacing his former teammate and best friend, he’s reluctant to do it. How can he live up to that? Then he runs into Joey’s younger brother Nico, who he feels this desparate need to reach out to. Nico is probably the only other person who can understand the loss that Ryan Dean feels but he's reluctant to talk.

While I’ve been excited about Stand-Off for some time, I was also hesitant to read it. As phenomenal as Winger was, I was so shaken after reading it that I was afraid of what new turmoil might be awaiting me in these pages. However, as soon as I was done with the first page I felt an instant wave of affection for Ryan Dean. Some things may have changed but his humor and self-deprecation are very much intact. It’s impossible to not find his awkwardness and knuckleheaded moments endearing. And his doodles are as always, hilarious! What sets him apart is that he's experienced a tragedy that you wouldn't want befall on anyone. Otherwise, he’s like any goofy fifteen year-old with a wild imagination, a strange assortment of friends and a certain stubborness that lands him in some trouble. Believe me when I say that Ryan Dean and his antics have given me plenty to think of as I prepare for my own son's steps towards adolescence!

Fans of Smith's works will enjoy Stand-Off. Mind you I'm slowly making my way through his catalog and have read three of his books so far, including this one, but they all carry his unmistakable style and wit. For those who've read Winger, fell in love with it like I did and felt a need for some closure, I certainly found it here. Stand-Off is the perfect follow-up!

~ Bel

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