Making the Grade / Stand-Off


Making the GradeHow was your weekend? I myself have been fortunate enough to be granted a few quiet weeks – ones where both homework and extracurriculars are light – before the holidays. It’s a welcome change of pace in a season that’s so typically busy, and I love that I can partake in holiday festivities and simple daytime pleasures without the stress of too much schoolwork over my head. A period of time such as this is rare for many high schoolers, so I’m taking full advantage of it, blogging, reading, and baking as I see fit. For today, I thought I would share a review of Andrew Smith’s Stand-Off, the sequel to his ever-popular Winger. I’ll spoil it for you now: it’s one heck of a good book.


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. {Goodreads}

Main Characters: A+
Protagonist Ryan Dean remains a memorable character – it would be hard for him not to, what with his humor and honesty – but what has changed from his fourteen-year old self in Winger is his perspective and situation. He’s grappling with grief after a heavy loss, adjusting to a new rugby position, and dealing with {annoying in Ryan Dean’s mind, adorable in mine} new roommate. Ryan Dean, simply put, has grown. In addition, his newfound maturity is balanced, contrasted, what have you, with a realistic teenage boy personality. There seems to be a growing pressure on authors to craft moral examples in their characters, write of teenagers who “do no wrong,” but Smith defies this expectation with Ryan Dean. He makes mistakes and repeatedly demonstrates a lack of judgement, yes, but it’s these choices of RDW that make this a true-to-life sort of tale.

Supporting Characters: A
I fell in love with Ryan Dean’s circle of friends and classmates in Winger, so it’s only natural that I would find the supporting characters vividly developed yet again. Smith has a gift for characterization, not limited when forced to shape characters though the eyes of Ryan Dean. Smith plays to perspective: Sam Abernathy, for example, is at once frustratingly persistent and touchingly loyal, while Nico, Joey’s younger brother, is both rudely distant and understandably reserved. I admire the parallels Smith draws between the secondary cast and Ryan Dean, and, furthermore, I liked the personification of Ryan Dean’s depression in N.A.T.E., who acted as a character of his own. 

Plot: A+
Winger ended with a heartbreaking punch. Stand-Off acts to deal with the aftermath. I wholeheartedly agree with the reviewer who wrote, “I was taken aback by how poignant and hopeful it is in comparison to how soul-crushing the first book was.” And it’s true: though the plot is laced with the bittersweet-ness that comes with one’s senior year of high school, it ultimately brings Ryan Dean to look ahead to his future rather than lurk in his past. That’s not to say Smith pays no respect to the heavy issues of grief and anxiety, both of which plague Ryan Dean, but rather, that he discusses them in a manner true to Ryan Dean’s personality: creative, self-deprecating, and entertaining.

Writing: A+
I’d like any skeptic of the YA genre to read Winger and Stand-Off and then try to explain that young adult books have no literary merit. Andrew Smith’s duology is a prime example of contemporary novels done right. The humor may not be to your taste or the storylines wrapped up too neatly for your liking, but neither of those can discount the emotion and heart packed into the Ryan Dean’s story, nor will they act as barriers to the audience’s enjoyment. I’m also so happy that they carried over the illustration aspect to this book; it’s an essential part to Ryan Dean’s story, and each comic brings another dimension to the narrative.

Final Grade: A+
Stand-Off was written to bring what was started in Winger to a close, and closure, arguably, was exactly what RDW, Smith, and readers needed. Some may complain that a revisit to Pine Mountain was unnecessary, but I lie on the opposite side of the argument; Winger has far too large of a traumatic end to let the story go unfinished. I sometimes fear that my love of a book can never be matched by its sequel, but, in this case, I was simply worried that I would find Ryan Dean, Annie, and company different, that they would be “off” in some way. I needn’t had been so nervous, as Stand-Off delivers – and then some. Andrew Smith doesn’t disappoint.

Have a lovely start to your week, friends {And a very happy Hanukkah to my Jewish readers!}.


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