SERIES REVIEW: WINGER AND STAND-OFF BY ANDREW SMITH

 

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.

TONIGHT THE STREETS ARE OURS BY LEILA SALES

Arden can be described as “recklessly loyal.” When her best friend Lindsey gets herself into trouble, Arden is the first one there to pick her up or bail her out. She sacrifices things for the people she loves, but lately those sacrifices have felt less satisfying. Her picture-perfect mom walked out of their frame, and Arden starts to feel unappreciated by the ones she cares about most. She stumbles upon “Tonight the Streets are Ours,” a blog by Peter, an aspiring New York writer, that puts her own thoughts into words, when she searches, “why doesn’t anyone love me as much as I love them?” And when she drops everything and takes a road trip to find him, she has one crazy night that shows that not everyone is always as they seem.

I picked up this book on a whim at a Fierce Reads panel at Little Shop of Stories, and I started reading it looking for something quick and fluffy. Road trip? Love? Mystery boy? Typical, yes. And just what I wanted. Alright, so Peter and Arden will live happily ever after and she’ll find herself on the way. I’m ready.

That’s not this book.

That’s not this book at all.

And I instantly fell in love with the unpredictability and excitement between the covers of this seemingly average novel.

I mean, look at the front. It seems like a fru-fru love story if I ever did see one. And I can’t say I minded, either. Even before knowing it wasn’t typical, the first line had me hooked.

The story you are about it read is a love story.

If it wasn’t, what would be the point? 

These words literally made my breath get caught and my hands tense around the cover. Of course love stories are the only meaningful stories, I thought to myself. Of course, because, otherwise, what would be the point? These two little sentences still cause my skin to tingle and make me consciously stop everything.

The book is so beautifully written, in my opinion. I love the simplicity of everything paired with the teenage voice and flowery descriptions. It’s easy to read, and it’s relatable. There’s obviously deeper themes, but it’s still a cute contemporary book. I think her writing style perfectly contrasted these two ideas.

And then there’s the plot. The entirely unexpected plot. Yes, it’s a love story (obviously), but it isn’t just a teenage romance. It’s beautiful. It’s about love and what it means and who to love and how to love them. It’s about loving not being in love. It’s deep, bro.

The only real critique I have is that sometimes the themes were a little too obvious. Every single thing that happened had a purpose, foreshadowing or creating tension or paralleling other stories or symbolizing the themes. This was both good and bad. It caused more layers to the story to discuss and show how everything connects, but sometimes I needed the networking to calm it down a bit.

I really wasn’t expecting to fall so deeply and madly in love with this book, but I definitely did. It’s anything but average. It pushes the envelope of young adult contemporary romance, and I think it takes the genre one step closer into focusing less on teenage lovers and more on love and relationships in general.

BOOK REVIEW: THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD BY ZORA NEALE HURSTON

As a teenager, Janie’s grandmother married her off as quickly as possible to an old man with his prospects in his sixty acres. When she’s tired of being stifled by him, she runs away with a man she found on the horizon, Jody. When Jody claims Eatonville and becomes the mayor, he takes her voice and covers her hair. Finally, she meets Tea Cake after Jody’s death, and she realizes what it means to be in love.

Alright, I’ll admit it. I was completely bored in the beginning of this book. And I hated the dialect. And I didn’t really have any feelings toward Janie because to me, she seemed very papery.

I can’t tell you exactly where the transition happened or why, but somewhere toward the middle I realized that I actually really enjoyed reading this book.

First of all, after Janie’s initial marriage and into her second one with Jody, I understood the weight of her voice and the toll it took on her to muffle it. And I started to appreciate how Hurston set up the novel and characterized Janie. It was subtle. She wasn’t papery. She was smart.

One of the major topics Hurston explores is the power of language, and she shows this through Janie’s marriages and attitudes. She hardly talks at all while married to Jody, showing her position as less than him, while with Tea Cake, they have real conversations and her dialogue is scattered throughout the end of the novel. She uses the form of the novel, not giving Janie much dialogue to greatly increasing it, to show her transition from less than her husband to equal with him. By doing this, I mistook her silence for two dimensional, but really it means so much more because language and the lack thereof shows the inequality between genders and Janie’s strategies in her marriage.

It is written pretty much completely in dialect, but I quickly got used to it. I also think the dialect definitely adds to the story, making it more real and emphasizing her themes on the importance of language.

Otherwise, I felt like there was probably a lot of stuff in the book that I missed. Plot wise, it picked up when Jody got sick. There is a bit of a twist with Tea Cake that I wasn’t expecting, but I also neglected to read the back and am a cynic, so it probably wouldn’t be surprising to anyone else.

I really did enjoy the book, and I liked how it didn’t seem like a race novel. Sure, there was a subtheme concerning racism and how it can affect anyone, black or white, but it didn’t overtake the novel. The novel is a classic because of its themes on language and equality, not because it’s only directed toward one audience.

I definitely recommend it as an important classic that isn’t that difficult to read.

“She had waited all her life for something, and it had killed her when it found her.”

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.
  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.
  3. 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith: Smith’s male protagonists have similar voices to Green’s main characters.
  4. Mosquitoland by David Arnold: It’s a classic road trip, Abundance of Katherines/ Paper Towns,anyone?
  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  9. Six Months Later by Natalie Richards: I don’treally have a good explanation for this one, other than its contemporary feel.
  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.

TOP TEN BOOKS ON MY FALL TBR LIST

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is all the books on our to-read lists. I actually don’t have a lot of timely books this season.

  1. Winger by Andrew Smith (I want to reread this for the sequel)
  2. Stand-Off by Andrew Smith
  3. The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
  4. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston
  5. More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera
  6. The Diviners by Libba Bray
  7. Wicked by Gregory Maguire
  8. Hello, I Love You by Katie Stout
  9. Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
  10. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

DECATUR BOOK FESTIVAL 2015

It’s that time of year again: book festival season!

I’m actually pumped because after the Decatur Book Festival, there’s going to be a month full of author talks at the Little Shop of Stories in October, and then we have the YALL Fest in November.

This year we decided to go both Saturday and Sunday because you can never have too much book festival. On Saturday we walked around the different tents and got books signed and watched author panels, and Sunday we volunteered from around 12-3. I realized this is my fifth year going to the 10th annual festival, and every year I adore Decatur more and more.

Saturday we listened to Sarah Dessen, a panel with Andrew Smith, Becky Albertalli, David Arnold and Adam Silvera, and David Levithan. Sarah Dessen talked mostly about manuscript failures and her contemporary world-building techniques. Despite her 12 books, she’s had just as many failed attempts at books, and I feel like her talk was a good encouragement to young writers. She also discussed her characters and techniques she uses for creating them, and her Easter egg cameos of different characters into different books.

The panel with the four authors discussed pretty much everything from representation of diversity and their lives in their books to the different voices they take on and the labels of their books. This panel reminded the audience that young adult literature is just a box, and teen voices aren’t much different than adult ones. I also now really want to read Happier than Not by Adam Silvera, and I will continue my quest to finish all the Andrew Smith books. He said he’s working on another one that’s full of crazy perspectives, and I can’t wait!

I was low-key extremely excited because both David Arnold and Becky Albertalli remembered me from the Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agendalaunch party, so I guess I’m kind of a big deal now.

We scoured the tents for bookmarks and searched for the most interesting book-related shirts/ skirts/ jewelry. I think we acquired 30-40 bookmarks and spotted a lot of cute bookish clothing, along with some DragonCon goers mixed in between the reader totes.

On Sunday we weren’t able to hear all of Libba Bray’s talk or see the other panels, but I did get to talk to the authors a little bit. Libba Bray was such a sweetie and spent so much time talking to each person that her line lasted forever and a day– but it was definitely worth it to meet her and have an actual conversation instead of being whisked away as soon as she swirls her name. We did another once-over of the festival tents and grabbed some books for being volunteers and ended our bookish weekend on a high note.

It was another wonderful year at the festival, and I’m starting to run out of authors to meet! I’ve already seen/ met Sarah Dessen, David Levithan, Andrew Smith, David Arnold, Becky Albertalli and Libba Bray. But I adore seeing them again because each panel brings something different, and I’ll always have more books to get signed!

TOP TEN FINISHED SERIES I HAVE YET TO FINISH

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic focus on the series that we haven’t finished yet, and this basically encompassing every book I’ve ever read. I’m not dedicated enough to finish series. Honestly, some of these series may not be finished yet, but I know that I won’t finish them.

  1. Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
  2. Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  3. The Program by Suzanne Young
  4. Matched by Allie Condie
  5. Delirium by Lauren Oliver
  6. The Maze Runner by James Dashner
  7. If I Stay by Gayle Forman
  8. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
  9. Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
  10. Legend by Marie Lu

CRABBY CONVERSATIONS: MAKE TIME

I’ve come to the realization that I have a lot of pet peeves. And I rant quite often about these pet peeves.

I thought of another one the other day that goes along with my whole, you know, book blog. I kind of feel like I’ve already talked about this before, but I couldn’t find anything like it in my posts, so maybe I’ve just complained about it to my friends. So now I can complain about it to you guys!

I think an example best explains it:

Person: Wow, you read? That’s so cool! I love reading. I read all the time.

Me: Really? What’s your favorite book?

Person: Oh, you know, [insert middle-grade staple book here].

Me: Yeah I liked that a lot in elementary school too….

Person: I haven’t read a book in so long…. I can’t actually remember the last time I read a book not for school. I just don’t have time to read anymore.

Me: …but… you said you liked reading…

Please refrain from having any conversations similar to this with me. I will pull my hair out.

If you loved reading or wanted to read or even liked reading, you would make time for it. Do not tell me you don’t have time! I take 4 AP classes and journalism and creative writing and write a column for a magazine and have a part-time job and go out with friends and run a blog… But I still make time to read. Because I love reading.  So if you “love” reading, you can make time.

But I get it if reading is not a priority. That’s fine. That’s your prerogative. But please do not tell me that you love reading when you don’t read. The fact that you enjoyed reading when you were a child and teachers forced you to is completely different from enjoying reading now. If you’re busy doing other things and would rather do something else like play sports or watch TV, then go ahead. But that means reading is not on your radar, so you must not love it as much as you supposedly do. You do not read all the time if you can’t remember the last book you read for leisure. And your favorite book still has pictures in it.

If you liked reading so much, you would make it a priority. I understand that not everyone wants to do this, but do not tell me you love something that you never do.

Alright, my rant is over. I feel like this post has a lot of anger in it. Whoops?

Is this a pet peeve for any of you guys? Or is it just me being unnecessarily hostile?

MONTHLY WRAP UPS: SUMMER

Alright, so I slacked on my wrap-ups. Conveniently, it was all the summer months that I missed, so here goes an all-in-one finishing post to summarize my summer. I definitely didn’t read as many books as I should have, and I’m way behind on my books to review and Goodreads challenge, but oh well.

Read: 14 novels

  1. Off the Page by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer
  2. Mosquitoland by David Arnold
  3. The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes
  4. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
  5. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathan Safran Foer
  6. Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson
  7. The Future of Us by Jay Asher
  8. The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger
  9. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M. T. Anderson
  10. Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
  11. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  12. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  13. The Puppet Turners of Narrow Interior by Stephanie Barbe Hammer
  14. Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Reviewed: 5 novels

  1. Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith
  2. Off the Page by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer
  3. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathan Safran Foer
  4. Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson
  5. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Mini Reviews: 3 novels

  1. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  2. Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli
  3. Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Discussed:

  • Crabby Conversations: Spontaneous Road Trip
  • Confessions of a Teenage Reader: The Inevitable Hiatus
  • Confessions of a Teenage Reader: Beautiful Little Birdy
  • Crabby Conversations: The Bookish Patriarchy

Book Haul: 17 novels

  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
  • Even the Stars Look Lonesome by Maya Angelou
  • Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • The Pearl by John Steinbeck
  • The Plague by Albert Camus
  • The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
  • The Underdogs by Markus Zusak
  • 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
  • Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Liars, Inc by Paula Stokes
  • The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest by Ken Kesey
  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
  • Wicked by Gregory Maguire
  • Summer of the Oak Moon by Laura Templeton

Bookish Excitement: 

  • YALL Festival and Decatur Book Festival released their author line-ups.
  • Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer held a signing sponsored by The Little Shop of Stories for their new book Off the Page.
  • 995 Bookmarks
  • Little Shop is hosting a good many author events coming in October and I’m super pumped!

Non-Bookish Excitement: 

I, surprisingly, had a very eventful summer without doing much…

  • Tybee Island and Orange Beach trip
  • Nashville trip to visit Vanderbilt (the campus and the school are both perfect, by the way)
  • It’s been the summer of concerts: Dave Matthews Band, Train, Fall Out Boy
  • Zoo Atlanta… twice

Guys, the summer has been beautiful and full of everything and I’m ready for it to be over but I’m also not ready to go back to school. Just think about it. I’m a senior now. This is it. You spend three years getting comfortable, one year to enjoy the glory, and the process begins again. Scary, right? I guess that’s just how it will always be. Cyclical to a fault. Anyway. Let’s see if I can even begin to pick the best parts out of the summer…

Summer Favorites:

  • Read: Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson– How can I not pick this one? It’s a summer anthem book.
  • Reviewed: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Johnathan Safran Foer
  • Mini Review: Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
  • Discussed: The Bookish Patriarchy
  • Haul: 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith
  • Bookish: Guys. I’m five bookmarks away from reaching 1,000. Five.
  • Non-Bookish: The concert string– specifically Dave Matthews and Train.

CRABBY CONVERSATIONS: THE BOOKISH PATRIARCHY

I think I have a niche, which is something that I would never want to admit. All my favorite books seem to have the same basic elements.

  • Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
  • I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak
  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  • Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Stranger by Albert Camus
  • Winger by Andrew Smith

And if you haven’t noticed the trends yet, I’ll point them out to you.

  1. Written by guys
  2. Written about guys
  3. First person
  4. Contemporary
  5. Mundane settings but original perspectives
  6. Focus on thoughts rather than events

The thing that kills me about these trends are the first two. It’s agonizing. I’m feeding into the patriarchy! Where’s my feminist punch? I can’t help which books I like…. But I did come up with a theory of why this happens.

Alright, here comes a nice little rant.

So books had a long period of segregation that still has remnants in today’s society. Girl vs. guy books. Mostly, though, it was a one way street. Girls can read guy books, but guys could not read girl books. If the protagonist was female, they were not having any of that. Yet could you blame them? Female protagonists implied domestic family problems and romance while guy books could range from self realization to destroying alien planets. Nobody saw any girls developing themselves individually or saving worlds.

And thus the dystopian fad was born.

Female authors put on their big girl pants and decided their female protagonists were going to fight evil in fiction world and bring down the patriarchy in reality with girls who can pack a punch. She can do anything guys can do… but better. Now girls have overrun the action world in young adult literature and have successfully beaten out male dominance in this genre. Except for one crutch that remains. The boyfriend.

The boyfriend is the dreaded subplot that threatens to overthrow the actual issues in these books every single time. Sometimes it succeeds (ehm, Hunger Games), but sometimes it remains to be just a beautiful little subplot to keep readers blushing and hearts fluttering.

But here’s the thing. When a male author is writing for a male audience with a male protagonist in an action book, he doesn’t need a romance. When a female author is writing for a female audience with a female protagonist in an action book, she doesn’t need a romance. But there is the inevitable placement of a romance for the appeasement of the teen girls reading the book and the stereotype that goes along with what they like and don’t like. It’s the shreds of bookish segregation that persists into present day. Female protagonists have yet to shake the shackles of their ancestors in that respect. Because now teenage girls can appreciate a powerful heroine, but of course they still want the beautiful romance as well.

Then there’s me who resents this trend. Don’t get me wrong, I love romance as much as anybody and I am all for girl power, but these just aren’t my favorite things to read. I appreciate a good world and valiant fight scenes, but my favorite books are ones that I can quote. Books that have more than excitement and romance. All my top choices may not be the most action packed or creative, but they’re original. They have meaning and characters with realistic dimension.

But I hate it. I hate the fact that none of these characters are females! Or written by women! It kills me every time and I sit here and try to shove a book with a female protagonist into nabbing a spot on my list, but it never happens. And there’s my theory on why. Male authors have nothing to prove with their male characters, while female authors have to break stereotypes and make sure their girls are independent and self sufficient. Guys just seem to have more openings available and have no needs for the boy/girlfriend crutch.

Rant over. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for books in my niche written by and about females, and hopefully one that interests me pops up soon. And hopefully the boyfriend subplot is nonexistent or subtle at most.