Cover of The Stand-In by Steve Bloom. A girl's hand with a corsage holds hands with a male outline

About the Book

Title: The Stand-In
Published: 2017

Cover Story: Giant Teen Hands
Drinking Buddy: Yeah, Why Not?
Testosterone Level: I’m Trying to Think of a PG-13 Euphamism
Talky Talk: Loose Ends
Bonus Factors: The 1%, Academia
Bromance Status: Freshman Roommate

Cover Story: Giant Teen Hands

At least it’s not faces. And if the cover designer’s goal was ‘I want a photograph that will ensure teen boys never pick this book up,’ mission accomplished.

The Deal:

Brooks Rattigan has a dark secret he doesn’t want anyone to know. No, he’s not gay, or abused, or on drugs, or homeless. It’s so much worse. He’s from New Jersey. Desperate to distance himself from his pothead father and his working class background, Brooks is determined to get into Columbia University, no matter what the cost.

When he hears some jerk talking about how his loser cousin has been stood up for homecoming and her parents are desperate to find her a date, Brooks impulsively volunteers. And suddenly, he has a whole new business plan.

Brooks is handsome, gentlemanly, and discrete. Soon, the wealthiest families in New York are clamoring to hire him as an escort for their beautiful-on-the-inside daughters. The parents are willing to pay a lot to ensure their daughters have a special night. And not just money: the fanciest restaurants, the most expensive tuxes, and even access to the family’s luxury car. He could get used to this. And with Brooks being from out of state, there’s no chance anyone will recognize him. He’s just arm candy for the night.

Heck, it’s not like one of the hottest, richest girls on the East Coast will develop a thing for this mysterious Brooks kid, right?

Drinking Buddy: Yeah, Why Not?

Two pints of beer cheersing

Now Brooks is a genuinely nice guy. He goes out of his way to make his dates feel special, takes abuse from girls who resent being set up by their parents, and never tries to turn a business arrangement into something more.

On the other hand, he treats his father like shit (the man’s a deadbeat, but Brooks goes overboard). And while he loves his friend Murph, he kind of uses him to further his university dreams.

Brooks is the sort of guy who’d change your tire in the rain, but pretend he doesn’t know you if you ran into him with his rich friends.

Testosterone Level: I’m Trying to Think of a PG-13 Euphemism

Brooks is so determined to earn money and raise his SAT scores that he refuses to pursue any women in real life. That is, until he meets Shelby Pace. She’s rich, she gorgeous, and she’s totally into Brooks, despite the fact that he’s ‘dating’ someone from her school. Brooks, unfortunately, has neither the time nor the money to date someone like Shelby, so he’s forced to blow her off.

But Shelby is not used to guys not being interested and wants to see more of this mysterious boy. Brooks soon concocts an elaborate backstory for himself, to cover the fact that he’s the son of a mailman in Hoboken.

Also, Brooks becomes friend with one of his dates, Celia Lieberman (and that’s what he calls her every time. Every time she’s mentioned, it’s Celia Lieberman. He never once drops her last name). Smart and snarky, Celia was forced to go to a school dance with Brooks because her mother thought it was an ‘age appropriate’ thing to do. Soon Celia and Brooks develop one of those ‘I don’t like you but let’s hang out and give each other life advice and secretly worry about each other’ relationships. He helps set her up with her nerd crush and isn’t jealous at all.

Talky Talk: Loose Ends

This was a funny book, and Brooks had enough of that ‘Yes, I’m aware of how desperate and sad all this is’ vibe to make me cheer for him. However, there were a few unbelievable bits.

Are there really THAT many girls whose parents are so desperate for them to attend their high school dances that they’d hire a date? Maybe it’s a rich person thing. And yes, there are last minute break ups and such, but the whole idea seemed kind of forced. Brooks describes all his dates as high-average looking, smart, nice, awkward girls. If they were looking for a just friends date, I’d think they could just drag along a nerdy friend. Hell, that’s why I ended up going to my senior prom (Hi, Julie!).

Also, the book had Saved By the Bell syndrome, where all teachers are sadists or idiots. ‘Your father is late to a meeting with your counselor? Guess who’s not going to college now!’ ‘You forgot to bring a pencil to the SAT test? Sucks to be you.’ Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but you can write a jerk teacher without resorting to sitcom-level pettiness.

Bonus Factors: The 1%

The Monty Python sketch 'Upperclass Twit of the Year'

We all had that one friend whose family was obviously better off than our own: nicer car, better toys, indoor plumbing, etc. The girls Brooks is dating, however, are in a whole other universe. Private jets, servants on staff, the whole nine yards.

When Brooks and Shelby start dating, Brooks has to pretend he’s another rich Manhattanite, who vacations in Europe and treats waiters like crap. He soon realizes Shelby has no concept of money. She’ll think nothing of ordering $100 worth of food on Brooks’s tab. Not because she’s gouging him, it’s just that in her world, that’s the equivalent of snitching fries off your friend’s plate.

Brooks desperately wants to be part of this world. It’s looking impossible, though.

Bonus Factor: Academia

Columbia University

So why is Brooks, who is guaranteed a full ride to Rutgers, so obsessed with going to Columbia? Why does he bust his ass on the SATs, call in favors from anyone he knows, and grovel in his admissions letter? Why Columbia? In the entire course of the book, I don’t think he even mentions having picked out a major.

He explains to Celia that Columbia represents the history, the class, the sophistication that he’s always been denied. He wants to be part of something bigger, something important, something great. And he’s not going to get that in the Garden State.

Brooks’s father cautions him against throwing all his hopes into an ivy league school. You see, Brooks’s dad wasn’t always a burned out mailman. He used to be an author. A good one. And a Harvard graduate.

Incidentally, I myself attended Columbia University…

The University of Missouri, Columbia
The University of Missouri, Columbia

Kind of.

Bromance Status: Freshman Roommate

I might not have gone out of my way to hang out with you, but I did enjoy our time together and the memories will probably grow fonder with age.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received neither money nor SAT prep help for writing this review.

Brian wrote his first YA novel when he was down and out in Mexico. He now lives in Missouri with his wonderful wife and daughter. He divides his time between writing and working as a school librarian. Brian still misses the preachy YA books of the eighties.