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

Novella Review: No Place like Oz by Danielle Paige

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This book is the prequel novella to Dorothy Must Die, and it explains how Dorothy became evil and why she “must die.” It takes the reader on a journey beginning in Kansas where Dorothy finds herself bored with home and wishing for the magic of Oz again. With some wishing and some good ole’ witch magic, Dorothy is back in Oz and ready to stay awhile. But, this time, not as a guest. She is wishing for Queendom now.

I liked Dorothy Must Die and I read this book about a year after I read the first one, which I just want to lay on the table in case that affects my review. I can’t say I liked this book as much as the first one, though.

Alright, a prequel was definitely needed, and I think it sets a solid foundation for the rest of the series. But sometimes I feel like it’s better to leave some mystery in the story. I feel like this series is lending itself to too many novellas and side stories, and I think it doesn’t give the reader any creative work. Nope, you don’t have to think about anything because another novella is coming to explain it all. Then again, I do think this novella is needed for the story.

Dorothy is an obvious villain in Dorothy Must Die. There is no sympathy from the reader; she is cruel, unreasonable, and selfish at the expense of others. She needs to die? Good. No Place Like Oz humanizes Dorothy and shows her beginnings to make the reader feel more empathy toward her. No we’re thinking, alright, I can see why you left Kansas. I get it. That makes sense. I think humanized villains always make for a better story because it shows that the world isn’t always black and white.

The plot of the novella is perfect for explaining and shows a great bridge between the original Wizard of Oz and the new series. I wished the process of getting to Oz was explained more, but it’s never really clear in any of the series by Baum or Paige, so I guess that’s just the charm.

Otherwise, I just didn’t click with the book. I didn’t like the writing style used for Dorothy. It’s in first person, and the book is set in Kansas in the beginning of the 1900s. I feel like Dorothy’s voice should have felt older, but instead the words and dialogue flowed like an average contemporary novel, similar to the voice of Amy in Dorothy Must Die.

And, for some reason, I felt like all the dialogue seemed unrealistic. The motives of the characters were blind to the reader. Like Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. The two got sucked into going to Oz with Dorothy, and the entire time they just pleaded to go home over and over and over. I would personally love to be in Oz if my usual home was a gray shack in the middle of nowhere, Kansas. Since there was no clear reason to go home, I just felt like the conversations didn’t flow well with the plot line.

I would definitely call this novella a necessity if you want to read the Dorothy Must Die series, but it wasn’t my favorite book to read. I still plan on reading The Wicked will Rise, but I don’t think I’ll be picking up any of the other novellas.

3 Stars