Series Review: Winger and Stand-Off by Andrew Smith

Winger (Winger, #1)Stand-Off (Winger, #2)

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.

5 Stars

 

Top Ten Books if You Like John Green

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic focuses on less-known books that would be good recommendations for readers who like certain popular books or authors. I chose John Green because I felt like this would give me a wide variety of contemporary young adult novels to chose from.

  1. Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts: This book is about a guy and a girl, who fall in love… and one of them has cancer. Zac and Mia
  2. Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout: This one is about a girl who goes to Korea for boarding school and falls in love with an aloof KPOP star. Hello, I Love You
  3. 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith: Smith’s male protagonists have similar voices to Green’s main characters. 100 Sideways Miles
  4. Mosquitoland by David Arnold: It’s a classic road trip, Abundance of Katherines/ Paper Towns, anyone? Mosquitoland
  5. Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli: Her male protagonist is also similar to Green’s, and the entire book is a contemporary love story with a focus on teen angst. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
  6. Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan: This book is about a relationship between Naomi and Ely, young adults and best friends, and it has themes of teen role confusion and a contemporary mood. Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List
  7. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: Lockhart’s writing style reminds me of Green’s because there are a lot of beautiful quotes and abstract concepts to think about. We Were Liars
  8. It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini: Again, the male protagonist reminds me of any Green book, and it focuses on internal conflict, just like Green. It's Kind of a Funny Story
  9. Six Months Later by Natalie Richards: I don’treally have a good explanation for this one, other than its contemporary feel. Six Months Later
  10. My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga: The conflicts in this book, and the inevitable star-crossed teen lovers, is perfect for Green aficionados. My Heart and Other Black Holes

Book Review: My Heart and Other Black Holes by Jasmine Warga

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Aysel is obsessed with her own death. If energy is neither created nor destroyed, where will her energy go when she’s gone? But she doesn’t have the energy to actually kill herself alone, so she finds a website to look for a suicide partner, aka FrozenRobot. Despite the fact the two teens have nothing in common, they begin to make life feel less black and smiles more natural for each other. But they’re just suicide partners. After a while, Aysel wants to be more, but she doesn’t want to flake on him, either.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for so long based solely on the beauty of its cover. And the concept did seem quite interesting. A perfectly planned out suicide? Two teens who sought for support, not to live, but to get the courage to die? Very interesting.

I enjoyed the book. I’ve never been depressed, but I thought the author uses a lot of description that everyone can understand in order to show Aysel’s feelings. Aysel is relatable with a classic teenage voice that has definite moments of clarity regarding depression and suicide and treatment.

There is the usual YA romance (sigh) between Aysel and her suicide partner Roman, but that is in the description of the book. The theme shifts toward love cures all, and the only thing I didn’t like was that the author focused on romantic love rather than the love of Aysel or Roman’s family. I do think this romance was warranted because it showed how two people can help each other through difficult times and overcome depression.

I liked the characters and setting of this book. It’s in a small town in the middle of nowhere with really nothing that happens. I think the setting kind of reflects Aysel being stuck in her own mind, worried that her depression will overtake her. It also allows for her depression to fester because it begins when her father is convicted of killing an Olympic-bound athlete of the town, and the quietness of the area allows for the rumors to continue and her name to be connected forever with the murder.

The characters are very real. Sometimes young adult novels have problems making teen voices seem authentic, but both Roman and Aysel and the other minor characters had real conversations and thoughts. The actions of Roman and Aysel seemed congruent to depressed teens, and their home life with worried mothers or frustrated sisters was also accurate.

Overall, it’s a classic contemporary young adult novel. The writing style is perfectly tailored to the plot with beautiful descriptions of their feelings. I can’t say it made me cry or anything, and I don’t think the ending was very surprising, but I did enjoy reading it and think that it demonstrated a solid depiction of depression.

4 Stars