Stand-off is the name of a position in rugby. Stand-Off is also the name of the newly published sequel to Winger, Andrew Smith’s 2013 young adult novel that both made me laugh and broke my heart into little, tiny pieces.
Ryan Dean West is the main character in both books. Please note that his name is Ryan Dean, not Ryan — it irks him no end when people get it wrong. In Winger, Ryan Dean is a 14-year-old junior at Pine Mountain, a co-ed boarding school located in rural Oregon. He’s used to being different, and considers himself somewhat of a loser, and yet he’s incredibly funny, a great rugby player, a talented cartoonist, and a good friend.
Winger ends with an absolute gut-punch, and that’s all I’ll say about it here. If you haven’t read it, you really should. Check out my review for my rather emotional reaction to Winger, and then rush out to the library to pick up a copy. Seriously.
In Stand-Off, it’s the beginning of senior year, and Ryan Dean is kind of screwed. He’s stuck in a ground-floor, teeny-tiny dorm room — and what’s worse, he’s sharing it with a 12-year-old freshman named Sam Abernathy, an adorable, eager little kid who favors soccer ball pajamas, cooking shows on TV, and leaving doors and windows open to stave off his raging claustrophobia. Needless to say, this does not sit well with Ryan Dean, who just wants to get through senior year, and maybe, just maybe, finally find a private place to have sex with his amazing girlfriend Annie.
Of course, nothing goes as planned for Ryan Dean, and the real problem is not Sam or the dorm room — it’s Nate. Nate is Ryan Dean’s abbreviation for the Next Accidental Terrible Experience, and Nate seems to be waiting to pounce on Ryan Dean at every turn, behind every corner, and in every dream. Ryan Dean suffers a series of panic attacks and night terrors, and it just seems to get worse and worse. How will he make it through senior year?
That’s the general overview of the plot. Trust me, it’s great.
One of the most delightful ingredients of Andrew Smith’s books is the language, and the writing in Stand-Off is no exception. Told in the first-person, Stand-Off is pure Ryan Dean, with all the horniness of a 15-year-old boy, plenty of snark, and tons of laughs. Open to any random page, and there are priceless gems. For example — page 193 (see, I’m being random):
“Hey, Ryan Dean, do you know what these cherry tomatoes remind me of all of a sudden?”
No. Just no.
Now cherry tomatoes were officially on the Ryan Dean West Things-I-Will-Never-Ever-Eat-Again List.
Or, again randomly, page 309:
Then I saw the Abernathy — all suited up in his perfectly creased Pine Mountain size extra-small boy suit (he must have thrown all the guys’ clothes in the washers and then waited for everyone to leave the locker room before changing) — winding his way like a malnourished albino chipmunk through a redwood forest of rugby players, balancing a plate of food in his hands while everyone he passed smeared their fingers through his hair.
One of the recurring patterns in this book is Ryan Dean’s questioning paragraphs, which start with “Okay. So, you know how…” and go on from there in a glorious stream of semi-connected thoughts and non-sequiturs:
Okay, so you know how sometimes when you really want to do something and so you make a promise to someone you don’t completely trust because somehow that person has just magically evolved into, like, the greatest human being you have ever known but there’s still some deep-down warning signal saying what the fuck did you just promise to do, Ryan Dean but you don’t care because you really want to believe that whatever Spotted John wants is not going to include multiple things that will ruin your life, so you hurriedly grab the pen and sign the contract on the dotted line?
It’s hard to pinpoint any one thing that makes this book so great. The characters are terrific, the writing is just so funny and poignant and honest, the cartoons interspersed throughout are so on-point and off-beat — and really, I just care so much about Ryan Dean after reading Winger that I spent all of Stand-Off just wishing for him to be okay and to be happy.
I’ll stop gushing, and just say: Read both books. I never would have thought that I’d love books about a pubescent teen boy in boarding school… but to whichever person in whichever publication wrote the review of Winger that caught my eye when it first came out: Thank you.
If you enjoy well-written young adult fiction that can make you laugh and cry, sometimes in the same chapter, you’ve just got to read Winger and Stand-Off.
Author: Andrew Smith
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: September 8, 2015
Length: 418 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction