This summer, I was fortunate to read two books that were very popular among my eighth grade classmates that I really enjoyed. The books were titled Winger and Stand-off, written by the same author, Andrew Smith. The main character of both books is named Ryan Dean West. Ryan is a very smart kid so he enters a private boarding high school at the age of twelve. But he was terribly lonely. This was a concept that connected for me because as I was reading this book one of my best childhood friends was in the process of selling his house this summer and moving to Washington DC with his family. I related to Ryan knowing that someone I considered family may no longer be part of my everyday life. My friend’s house still hasn’t sold so it changes day by day whether he plans to stay or go. This also represented a lesson for me: be open to new friends but don’t write the old ones off too quickly - they may end up staying awhile! Ryan, being younger than his classmates, finds himself isolated and lonely until he meets a girl named Annie Altman. I really didn't know what isolation could do to a person, but after reading this book I realize that without friends or people to lean on, life is difficult. This made me want to be kinder and appreciate the people I have in my life right now while I can.
Another character I was able to relate to was Joey. I liked Joey because he leads by example and always looked out for younger kids like Ryan. He didn’t view Ryan as a younger kid; he just saw him as a buddy. Joey didn’t have to look after the newbies because he was already an accomplished athlete and upper class student. One night, Joey brought Ryan to play poker with the upper class and they wanted Ryan to drink beer when he lost a hand. But Joey was quick to step in and protect Ryan if he was not comfortable with the situation.
Finally, I enjoyed reading about Niko. Niko kept to himself and eventually came out of his shell when Ryan included him in his group of friends and they all bonded over Niko’s deceased brother, Joey. Niko struggles with fitting in just like any younger student would if trying to adapt to being with an older set of teens.
Overall, I disliked how dull the second book was, especially the climax which revealed that Joey had a romantic crush on Ryan. The upside was that it did provide me with more background knowledge and cleared up confusion from the first book related to Joey and Ryan’s relationship. What I enjoyed learning about was Ryan friendship with Joey's brother, Niko, which was a bit of a surprising turn of events. Hopefully, Andrew Smith will make a third book that will insert some additional characters and make something happen that is more exciting than the friendship between Ryan and Niko. One suggestion would be to insert some content about the rugby team and the involvement of the main characters on the school’s rugby team. I hope this information helps you decide whether or not to select this series by Andrew Smith. Happy reading!