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.

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

CRABBY CONVERSATIONS: SPONTANEOUS ROAD TRIP!

I have a grand idea. Let’s jump into a snazzy little clunker and rev the engine into the distance. Let’s follow the sunset with a can of money and a drawstring bag of clothes. Pack light because things will work out on the way. Let’s not plan anything and focus on the objective. Let’s see the Northern Lights, let’s visit our long-lost lover, let’s just seek adventure and because we’re on a road trip we’ll find it. See a hitchhiker? Pick him up. See a road sign for the biggest block of cheese in the Western Hemisphere? Pull off. This is a road trip and we have all summer and our phones are nowhere to be found because those sedentary people are just holding us back.

Sounds implausible, reckless, and a generally awful idea, right? Wrong. Because this is fiction and we can do whatever the heck we want and nothing too terrible will happen unless we want it to.

Road trip books absolutely baffle me because they’re considered contemporary fiction. Realistic. I think I would categorize them as fantasy, because how does everything work out perfectly? How does adventure just kick you in the face? How is the road trip not just sleepy hours in a car with disgruntled occupants?

And I have one question, just one– where are your parents? If they know about your trip, how are they okay with it? If they don’t, how did you possibly deceive them of something this big? (alright that was more than one question)

But, seriously. I wish my parents caved to my reckless whims and allowed for my craving for adventure be satisfied by a road trip.

The thing is, despite the absolute absurdity of these trips and the complete unrealisticness of this niche, I love this books. I love them so much.

I think it’s my wistfulness. I would adore going on a road trip. The more spontaneous, the more fun. I’ve always wanted to have interesting things and interesting people fall into my life, and I’ve dreamed of breaking out of suburbia and into something real. Yet this books aren’t real… But they are what I wish was real. If that makes any sense.

So, yes. Road trip books are unrealistic. Completely fantasy. But somehow the valiant road-trippers find love and fulfillment and excitement and sorrow and everything in between. It’s the classic Hero’s Journey, but in contemporary terms.

But here’s the thing.

I hate the classic Hero’s Journey of trumping through woods and fighting evil with swords and magical powers and gaining alliances.

Yet I love the contemporary Hero’s Journey of driving down the highway of escaping sticky situations with wit and luck and meeting people from the forgotten folds of the world.

AUTHOR EVENT: LITTLE SHOP LAUNCH PARTY

I did something out of the ordinary over the weekend. I went to an author event (which isn’t the crazy part)….

I went to an author event without reading the book first.

*cue the shame*

In my defense, it was a launch party, so the book only came out like three or so days before the event. I know the more hardcore readers would have already read and reviewed the book, but I just decided that I would buy the book once I got there. Plus I had to buy a book to get one signed, so it worked out.

Basically, we did the usual routine with a bit more flexibility since it was on a Saturday instead of a random Monday night. My parents and I went to the Dogwood Festival in the afternoon and went over to Decatur of dinner before the event. I bought the first (two) books of the launch party, just sayin’.

It was actually quite an adorable event. Usually we head upstairs and listen to the author talk about whatever he/she wants to talk about, then we go downstairs to a signing line and jump back into our cars. This time, we stayed downstairs and they had Oreo cookies and milk and alcohol-soaked stacks of more Oreo cookies. And wine. Don’t forget the wine.

Can you guess the book? Published in April, revolves around chocolate cookies with creme filling…

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Plus it had a gorgeous display.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the event. My friend met me there, and we stood in the back surrounded by all Becky’s friends who came out to support her book release. You could tell that she was a first-time author and didn’t have the whole author-event thing down just yet, but I liked that about her. It was interesting to see how surreal the whole process was for her, and I felt like seeing a debut author gives young writers more confidence and makes their goal to write a novel more realistic.

Also, let’s talk about how she said it took her all of 6 months to write, edit, and sign her book. Oh my gosh! It took me 6 months just to think of a blog title and actually start writing book reviews!

She did a question/ answer session and signed books, and you could just tell how excited she was about her book being published. The complete opposite of a snobby writer. She thanked her friends and family a million times in the beginning, and I loved seeing her whole support system. It also made me feel a bit like I was intruding, but, hey, when she’s the next John Green I can boast about being at her first launch party. And she’s writing another book now, so I could totally see that happening. 

As I said earlier, I usually don’t go to bookish events if I haven’t read the spotlighted book or author. It always feels fake to me, like I’m pretending to be a fan of something I haven’t even read yet. But I had been seeing Simon on pretty much every platform that has anything to do with young adult literature, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. How could I resist a launch party!?

I had already read reviews and searched her author blog and watched a Tea Time episode that interviewed her literary agent, so I would say that I did know a bit of Simon and Becky trivia before going. Which sounds creepy, now that I think about it. But it’ll be okay.

Point being, the excitement I had for this book was unreal. I cannot tell you guys enough how much I appreciate The Little Shop of Stories, because they do the cutest events, and the Decatur Book Festival used to be the bookish event that became my lifeline to hold me over until next year. And now they’re doing all sorts of different events, and I’m currently making it my job to go to as many as I possibly can. I may or may not pull up their events page just about as often as I check Twitter. You know, just to chill, see what’s up in Decatur… make sure I’m not missing any authors.

Speaking of, in addition to meeting the lovely Becky Albertalli, her friend David Arnold, author of Mosquitoland also popped in to support her. I cannot even tell you how many times I’ve walked across the beautiful cover of Mosquitoland and had to pick it up just to see what it felt like to hold a work of art in my hands. I haven’t done quite the extensive research on his book as I did Simon, but it still had a nice glowing spot on my TBR list. I didn’t really think I would be reading it anytime soon (I’m cheap, I don’t buy hardbacks… or full-priced paperbacks… Basically I will not buy a book over $6 unless it’s signed). So needless to say I was pumped to get the extra little gift of Mosquitoland in addition to Simon and meeting both authors who are wonderful down-to-earth people.

So please, if you don’t go to author events or festivals or anything, find yourself an adorable bookstore and get involved in this community! Everyone is always so nice and it’s really a lot of fun. Writers are awesome, but readers are the life of the party!:)

And a little sidnote: I just finished Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda and it is all the adorableness rolled into a cute modern narrator, rounded friends, and a meaningful plot. More on the book with the review!

AUTHOR EVENT: ANDREW SMITH

Once again, Little Shop of Stories has shown me that it’s the best book store that could possibly be near me. Another Californian author found themselves on the east coast folded between a Starbucks and a Decatur boutique. Luckily, more and more book tours are happening and Little Shop of Stories seems to have found itself a little niche in the bookish world. Now I don’t have to wait until the Decatur Book Festival or the Yallfest to meet authors.

Back in January, Marissa Meyer made an appearance with the release of Fairest: Queen Levana’s Story. This past Monday, Andrew Smith moseyed down to highlight the release of The Alex Crow and to remind us to “Keep YA Weird” with Penguin’s marketing team.

So we hitched up and headed out on a Monday night to drive the trek (an hour) to Decatur. Where else would be popping on a Monday if not an author signing?

I even called in at work. I was *cough cough* feeling pretty sick… but anyway.

It’s funny how I complain the store’s so far away when I’m fortunate to even have a book store like that within a moderate distance that hosts author signings and book festivals. Either way, I’m not satisfied unless I’m in walking distance, or work there. Or both.

At the Meyer signing, the upstairs was packed to the railing and down the staircase with mostly girls from tweens to adults eagerly holding their collections of the Lunar Chronicles and holding their phones up to take pictures of Meyer as she talked. The place sweltered with bodies and my view was more or less the back of someone’s head.

We cruised in at 6:30ish on Monday night to a book store with a few drowsy customers and my immediate thoughts were that we had the wrong day. I assumed there would be less people, but I didn’t realize the change would be so drastic. They weren’t accepting people upstairs yet, but even so, I expected the book store to be filling up. After wandering the streets to kill some time, we peeked into the store again and the numbers hadn’t grown much. We strolled upstairs without a problem and didn’t have to face the mass bottle-necking of bodies stampeding to the seats.

This time we even got seats because there may have been all of 15 people in there, which I completely loved. This was probably the first author signing I’d been to where I felt like I wasn’t just another audience listening to a lecture; rather, I could hear without a microphone and see Smith without the obstruction of fangirls. A high school kid also interviewed Smith before 7 p.m., and I’m still curious as to how he scored that job.

So while I was disappointed more people didn’t show up for his talk, I selfishly enjoyed having a two minute signing line and feeling like I was in a closer setting than usual.

He read a little bit from his new book and explained how he formulated the premise of the plot. It’s interesting because he said that he doesn’t draft like most authors; rather, he writes all the way through but just makes sure everything is perfect while he goes. He said that’s he’s a disciplines writer and has been writing his entire life. He works as a high school teacher in California, and some of his ideas are spurred from his students. In Grasshopper Jungle, he explained that the only thing he knew going into it was the first scene and an idea that tied in the end of the world with adolescence. I’m still not sure how giant grasshoppers got involved….

I would say he’s been one of my favorite authors to listen to. He didn’t just talk about his book or just about writing. He gave an overview on how he got his ideas and inspirations, how he uses Google to help form his thoughts, and how he underwent the publishing process. I also loved hearing about his editor because I hope to become an editor. I figure I’m not creative enough to become an author, so I can just get my name in small print toward the back and be perfectly happy with helping out with great books.

Plus, as a side note, I only read Grasshopper Jungle about a week ago, and my water bottle broke open in my school bag and spilled over everything. I doctored my book as best as possible with a whole roll of paper towels in accordance with Epic Read’s guidelines, but the beginning pages still stayed a little wavy (I don’t know if you can tell in the picture). I confessed the the damage and worried that I’d be labeled as a book-abuser, but all he said was that Grasshopper Jungle is a moist book, so it’s fitting.:)

Otherwise, I felt like he was super personable and easy to listen to. His talk kept me completely engaged and I loved his reasoning for his books and ideas. I recommend going to hear him even if you haven’t read any of his books, but I know the experience was better for me because I loved his books so much!

WAITING ON WEDNESDAY: THE ART OF LAINEY BY PAULA STROKES

Goodreads Summary:

Soccer star Lainey Mitchell is gearing up to spend an epic summer with her amazing boyfriend, Jason, when he suddenly breaks up with her—no reasons, no warning, and in public no less! Lainey is more than crushed, but with help from her friend Bianca, she resolves to do whatever it takes to get Jason back.

And that’s when the girls stumble across a copy of The Art of War. With just one glance, they’re sure they can use the book to lure Jason back into Lainey’s arms. So Lainey channels her inner warlord, recruiting spies to gather intel and persuading her coworker Micah to pose as her new boyfriend to make Jason jealous. After a few “dates”, it looks like her plan is going to work! But now her relationship with Micah is starting to feel like more than just a game.

What’s a girl to do when what she wants is totally different from what she needs? How do you figure out the person you’re meant to be with, if you’re still figuring out the person you’re meant to be?

Sometimes, a girl just wants a nice, fluffy contemporary novel to curl up in, and this one looks especially unique. I’m interested in The Art of War reference, and I wonder how Strokes will add that element in without getting confusing. All the reviews have been fabulous, and I can’t wait to read it!