Series Review: Winger and Stand-Off by Andrew Smith

Winger (Winger, #1)Stand-Off (Winger, #2)

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.

5 Stars

 

Tonight the Streets are Ours by Leila Sales

Tonight the Streets Are Ours

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.

5 Stars

 

Book Review: Their Eyes were watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God

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.

4 Stars

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