Title: Stand-Off (Winger #2)
Author: Andrew Smith
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2
Synopsis: 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?
Huge thank you to Simon Teen Canada for this ARC!
After recently reading Winger, I was a bit worried about this sequel. With the way the novel ended, there was a part of me that wasn’t sure where Smith could go with Ryan Dean West’s story. Colour me surprised when I finished Stand-Off and loved it as much as the first book. If I’m being frank, I really love both equally.
This story takes place after a spoil from Winger where Ryan Dean is in his senior year. You’d think Ryan Dean would have some maturity at this point, but when he’s paired with a twelve year old named Sam, well, that maturity goes out the window to say the least. Actually, this relationship easily one of the most humorous and sad at the same time. Sam is so timid and darling, and he’s that kid that you want to hate but you have no real good reason why, and that’s what makes it pretty humorous. However, it also problematic as it shows that Ryan Dean doesn’t want to admit that in some way, he and Sam are fairly similar.
Seriously though, I had a good laugh during parts of Stand-Off, and it really does come from Ryan Dean’s narration. There’s something very sharp, witty, yet kind of wimpy in his voice that I was once again completely drawn too. Yet there’s a darker atmosphere to Ryan Dean in this story since he’s haunted by an event from the previous book, and that stays constant throughout. I love the contrast between the serious elements ofStand-Off and the humour, and I think Smith does a great job of balancing these two aspects in a way that shows Ryan Dean’s development.
And really, that was the huge thing I loved about this sequel. I loved watching Ryan Dean grow as a person — he’s still as troubled as he was in the first book, but he definitely is looking at high school with a much more critical eye in this story, because in some ways he has grown up, and in other ways he is that very immature kid who refuses to grow up. He struggles to get over some of the problems from the first book, but they aren’t issues that you can just “get over” with ease. Smith goes this amazing job of showing Ryan Dean’s struggles in his growth and development, and having Sam be the contrast works so well in making the reader understand him more.
Also, I was super happy with how the relationship between Ryan Dean and Annie was developed in this book. Smith is often criticized for how he writes his female characters, but I thought Annie was a great character and I think her development in this book was solid. There’s one particular part between her and Ryan Dean that I adored simply because it shows young love in its best form — awkward, uncomfortable, and the desire for exploration. They are very cute, but I absolutely love how hard Annie is on Ryan Dean because he often earns it throughout the novel.
I am so sad in a way that I won’t get another Ryan Dean West story, but on the other hand I loved the way this book ended. It was the right kind of ending that makes you smile given all the crap that happens throughout. It’s not a perfect happy ending, and I’m okay with that. At the end of the day, I am happy that a sequel like Stand-Off exists because it feels so right, even if it didn’t seem like it was necessary in the first place. I still don’t think after reading this that I could choose between the books as to which is my favourite, but I really encourage people to check both Winger and Stand-Off if you want to read some great realistic fiction with a great, saucey male lead.