I have read Winger twice. And it is the only book that has made me uncontrollably sob. Twice.
Winger is about Ryan Dean West, a 14 year old junior at a northwestern boarding school for rich kids. Somehow, he got put in the “bad kids” dorm, rooming with the bully of his rugby team and across the hall from burly football players. And he’s in love with Annie, his best friend. Life gets pretty complicated at Pine Mountain Academy, but he manages to make it all work out between his friends and rugby and comics. But nothing could prepare him for what the end of the year brought, and his world comes tumbling down.
Stand-Off continues into Ryan Dean’s senior year, which should mean that he’s on top of the world but instead he is still haunted by last year’s tragedy. He fills in for stand-off after his best friend Joey passed away, and suddenly his entire team is counting on him. To make matters worse, he doesn’t even get to enjoy senior dorm privileges because administration decided to pair him with 12-year-old freshmen Sam Abernathy so he could “show him the ropes.” Ryan Dean is convinced the “Next Accidental Terrible Experience” is around the corner, and his paranoia is leaking into all aspects of his life, including his relationship with Annie.
Alrighty. Here we go. It’s almost difficult for me to review these books, Winger especially, because it’s just so good.
So instead, I think I’ll review Stand-Off and mention Winger thoughts and feelings along the way.
I despise contemporary series, so I had some hesitation about the book, but it’s by Andrew Smith so that hesitation was all of 0.2 seconds. Then I read the book. And I did have some legitimacy to my concern. I think Stand-Off is the worst book I’ve read by Smith– that being said, I still loved it. But I loved it less than Winger and 100 Sideways Miles and Grasshopper Jungle and The Alex Crow.
First of all, I had the initial distaste for contemporary sequels. Then I thought Ryan Dean was a bit of a jerk all the time. I’m all for well rounded and diverse characters, and I don’t think everyone should be likeable because a) that’s no fun and b) it’s not believable. But I think he went a little overboard with is meanness toward Sam Abernathy.
Also, I didn’t think the plot moved fast enough. Not saying that there’s supposed to be a lot of action or anything, but there were definitely parts that dragged. Like every rugby scene. In Winger, the rugby field was a backdrop for other things, a means for a team and games and excitement in Ryan Dean’s life. I felt like Stand-Off emphasized rugby too much. I didn’t want game coverage; I wanted Ryan Dean coverage! I think one of the reasons Stand-Off went slower is because I already know Ryan Dean from Winger, so there was less to learn.
Winger, on the other hand, turned the 400+ page book into a one-sitting read with its character development of Ryan Dean, trials of high school, and hilarious random events. Screaming Ned? I literally laughed out loud, which was embarrassing as I sat in the break room at work, but still. Funny stuff. I loved Ryan Dean’s humor and his cute comics. His narrative first-person voice made everything that much more entertaining.
Both books definitely have intense boy humor, so if you don’t like that kind of stuff… these aren’t the books for you. Apparently, I am a teenage boy, so I cracked up every time. Whoops?
But there’s this one thing in Stand-Off that I absolutely adored. It made me smile, or actually laugh, every single time it cropped up in the book, and Andrew Smith is all about repetition so it came up a lot. Whenever Sam Abernathy talked, or the Abernathy as Ryan Dean called him, Andrew Smith used very descriptive “said” verbs and vivid imagery. The Abernathy didn’t say it– or demand, or shout, or hiss or anything like that. The Abernathy gurgled.
Smith used descriptions for babies or toddlers whenever the Abernathy spoke, and it cracked me up. Or he would be described as a juice box or other childish and squeezable things to make him seem so cute and innocent that I just had to laugh.
Guys, there’s really no way to critique Andrew Smith’s writing. It’s beautiful. It’s descriptive. It’s funny. Even if I didn’t wholeheartedly like Stand-Off, I couldn’t deny the literary merit.
But I did wholeheartedly love Winger. I loved the ending. The commentary on the ridiculousness of social stereotypes and the realness of it all. Seriously, though. What I said before about crying? Weeping, really. That’s all true. It made me laugh and cry and everything in between. It goes on my list of all-time favorite books. It opened my door to Andrew Smith. It’s just beautiful. I emailed Andrew Smith I loved it so much. Whenever I think about this book
Anyway, I better wrap this up before I go on forever.
Winger by far surpasses Stand-Off, but I’m glad I got to catch up with Ryan Dean and make sure he was okay. It was good closure.
Read these books.