Stand-Off by Andrew Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A couple of years ago, Cory Doctorow put out the sequel to Little Brother and delivered a Lighter and Softer story that read a bit more like a string of loosely connected personal vignettes for the main character. Now, old Marbury Jack does something similar for the sequel to Winger.
This book actually isn't just Lighter and Softer than Winger, though. It's Lighter and Softer than any Andrew Smith book I've ever read, especially The Alex Crow or Grasshopper Jungle. Sure, there's the ever-present threat of NATE (the Next Accidental Terrible Experience) to think about, but hey, is that creepy-ass swamp monster any match for the Rainicorn-y powers of Princess Snugglewarm? I think not.
Another way it's Lighter and Softer - despite the fact that the boys of Pine Mountain all desperately need hugs...
...there's not so much that adds to the tragedy in their lives this time around. I kept having the uneasy feeling that we'd have a repeat of Joey's death, or maybe something worse. But no, no NATEs happen, thank God. Instead, we get a little more insight into the histories of characters both old and new. A special favorite of mine is, of course, the Abernathy, who's basically me as a twelve-year-old, but more excitable. (The Drinking Game for this book: take a shot every time Sam Abernathy "wriggles with excitement." I hope you didn't just do that, as it's deadly. XD) I admit, I hated Ryan Dean for a while for being such an asshole to the little guy - did he really do such a great job of forgetting that he, too, was once a twelve-year-old freshman? But eventually, he warmed up to him, in spite of himself, as expected. So much stuff happened in this book that I actually expected - most of which involved the boys' love lives and romantic feelings, including - yep, Joey's. So, not a lot of surprises, but they still kept the book interesting, along with so many other factors. Namely, Ryan Dean's soon-to-be-world-famous comics.
So, considering that this book doesn't end nearly so tragically as its predecessor, I would hope that Andrew Smith doesn't go ahead and write a third book for Ryan Dean, then end it in bloodshed all over again. Here's proof that he can, in fact, leave well enough alone for his characters. Can, and should. Not everything has to end in disaster. Not everything needs a NATE.
And in the meantime, I'll still be waiting for Smith's next creation. And changing my own Ryan character's name to Russell, so he and my own Annie character won't get confused with Ryan Dean and Annie from this book anymore. :)
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