About the Book

Title: Stand-Off (Winger #2)
Published: 2015
Series: Winger
Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Cover Story: Noogie Worthy
BFF Charm: Big Sister, With a Side of Let Me Love You
Talky Talk: (Mostly) 2 Legit 2 Quit, Dude
Bonus Factors: Charles Wallace, Sex Ed, Tyranny of Alphabetical Order
Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

Content Warning: This is Book 2 of the Winger duology. Spoilers ahead for Book 1!

Cover Story: Noogie Worthy

While I like the idea of this cover — Ryan Dean’s come a long way since the first book — this might be a rare misfire for Simon & Schuster’s ace art director, Lucy Ruth Cummins. Did no one working on this know what a noogie looks like? This could be the most jovial headlock I’ve ever seen. Like, that kid on the receiving end doesn’t seem too fazed to be hanging out in someone’s armpit. There might even be a hint of a smile on his face!

Fortunately, this cover jacket repeats my fave aspect of the Winger cover: the illustrated back by Sam Bosma!

The U.K. front cover isn’t much better, but at least the noogie looks more authentic. If also somewhat constipated.

The Deal:

It’s the following school year after the events of Winger, and Ryan Dean West is a fifteen-year-old senior at Pine Mountain Academy. Ryan might be moving up in the rugby world and dating longtime crush Annie Altman nowadays, but that doesn’t mean life is much easier for him this time around. He’s stuck rooming with Sam Abernathy, a twelve-year-old freshman with unorthodox sleeping habits, and, in the wake of his best friend Joey Cosentino’s brutal death, he’s experiencing anxiety attacks and he’s convinced that the Next Accidental Terrible Experience (N.A.T.E.) will strike at any moment. Will Ryan Dean make it through the year without going cray? 

BFF Charm: Big Sister, With a Side of Let Me Love You

BFF Charm Big Sister with Clarissa from Clarissa Explains It All's face

I still love Ryan Dean, but damn, did I notice Joey’s absence. Not only as an awesome character and through Ryan Dean’s grief, but as the Jiminy Cricket/Obi-Wan who keeps RD in line. Without Joey around, I totally wanted to step in to give Ryan Dean a stern talking-to about what a major jerkface he is to poor little Sam (more on him later). And I’d also like to reassure him that he’s most definitely not a loser; insecurity pretty much goes hand-in-hand with being a teenager, and we’re all our own worst critics. If only you could see yourself through my (and your peers’) eyes, Ryan Dean! You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it — people like you!

Swoonworthy Scale: 4

Now that Ryan Dean’s a year older, he might have achieved peak horniness for his short life. Even though he has an awesome girlfriend in Annie, his hetero teen boy brain takes copious note of the attractive Culinary Arts teacher and has a weird-but-also-not-completely-bizarre obsession with the sex life of Annie’s BFF. But his rampant horniness aside, Ryan Dean’s relationship with Annie is actually pretty honest and mature — understandable, given how close they were before they started dating and how much they’ve been through together. While Annie doesn’t have much of a side plot outside of Ryan Dean, she never hesitates to call him out on his shit, of which there is a lot.

Talky Talk: (Mostly) 2 Legit 2 Quit, Dude

Thanks to the laugh-out-loud snortworthiness of this book, I spent several days looking like a lunatic with my futile attempts to suppress giggles during my commute. Wielding that sharp sense of humour, Ryan Dean’s energetic narration is on point more often than not, save for a few quirks that get repeated too often. (Dude, I get it; you don’t like to cuss out loud. This was in the first book too, but it felt more excessive here.)

Probably the most polarizing part of Winger is how it ends so soon after Joey’s death is discovered. I never really minded the abruptness, because people do get blindsided by tragedy. Winger always felt like the story of how important Joey was to Ryan Dean, rather than Ryan Dean processing the death of his best friend. By getting to know and love Joey first, his death was much more of a devastating gut punch than it would have been as a plot device-y dead gay BFF that the reader wouldn’t actually care about.

In Stand-Off, Ryan Dean is FOR SURE working through his grief, which readers who wanted more closure from Winger might appreciate. But because this story is about how Joey’s death affects Ryan Dean, it feels like Joey’s been reduced to the plot device that he avoided being in the first book. Or maybe I’ve just talked myself into a paradoxical circle, because other grief books expect the reader to care about the deceased in relation to the main character, and usually without getting to know them for a whole book beforehand. Still, I can’t fully shake the feeling that a straight narrative is being advanced at the sake of an LGBTQ character. (Granted, that’s also present to a lesser degree in the first book, and Stand-Off does contain a new unrelated LGBTQ subplot that isn’t used to serve Ryan Dean’s growth.)

I might be able to talk myself in and out of that last point, but I can’t do the same for my biggest issue with this book. (This requires vague spoilers — from which the true spoiler can be easily deduced — so proceed with caution.) Stand-Off contains a revelation about Joey that makes me question his entire story from Winger. Obvs, this could have been the intention all along, but it feels a little like revisionist history — esp. of a character that I loved so much.

TL;DR: I have a lot to unpack on Joey Cosentino, y’all. 

Bonus Factor: Charles Wallace

Charles Wallace, the little brother in Wrinkle in Time, looking cute and inquisitive

Sam Abernathy is an annoying but well-meaning child prodigy. With his sunny disposition and craftiness in the kitchen (or, the microwave oven that’s allowed in the dorms), Sam could be a potentially great roomie. Except he has extreme claustrophobia that doesn’t mesh well with the shoebox of a room he shares,* and he’s totally oblivious to Ryan Dean’s irritation towards him. (Mostly unjustified irritation, but I, too, would be ticked off if someone keeps talking to me when I’m trying to sleep. SOME THINGS ARE SACRED, SAM.) Luckily, Sam is precocious and adorbs enough to balance out his shortcomings, because he really is a sweetie pie. 

*Sam’s claustrophobia is so bad that I have no idea why his parents — who settled him into the room — didn’t talk to the school about getting him special living arrangements. I hope Sam was just good at hiding it back home; otherwise, it’s just shitty parenting to do that to your kid (and to subject someone else’s kid to it). 

Bonus Factor: Sex Ed

Various forms of birth control and contraceptives

The Pine Mountain Health class curriculum for senior boys includes Ten Commandments to My Penis and a Five-Point Checklist for Consent. I wish so much that this was real and mandatory for all schools! (The girls’ equivalent is never discussed, but I can’t imagine it doesn’t exist at such a progressive school.)

Bonus Factor: Tyranny of Alphabetical Order

As someone who’d place just above Ryan Dean, I def. feel his rant against alphabetical order. It rarely towards the favour of those at the end of the alphabet, and there is no greater joy than reverse alphabet order or discovering that someone has a ‘lower’ last name than you. When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to change my last name to something higher in the alphabet. But then I was done school forever and no longer cared about those kinds of things. (Although it was mostly why I didn’t attend my own college commencement, since neither my family nor I wanted to sit through another after the one for my v. large high school class.)

Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

Given how much fun we had the first time around, I’m glad I could catch up with Ryan Dean, both for the LULZ and to see how he’s adjusted to life without Joey. Although I’ll cherish the new memories that were made, the light that this reunion has cast on the first book has me questioning our history together. This book cracked my shizz up, but maybe some things are better left in the past. 

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada. I received neither money nor froyo for writing this review (dammit!). Stand-Off is available now.

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.