Book Review – ‘Stand-off’ (#2 Winger) by Andrew Smith

Now this is how you do a sequel.

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 401

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It’s his last year at Pine Mountain, and Ryan Dean should be focused on his future, but instead, he’s haunted by his past. His rugby coach expects him to fill the roles once played by his lost friend, Joey, as the rugby team’s stand-off and new captain. And somehow he’s stuck rooming with twelve-year-old freshman Sam Abernathy, a cooking whiz with extreme claustrophobia and a serious crush on Annie Altman—aka Ryan Dean’s girlfriend, for now, anyway.

Equally distressing, Ryan Dean’s doodles and drawings don’t offer the relief they used to. He’s convinced N.A.T.E. (the Next Accidental Terrible Experience) is lurking around every corner—and then he runs into Joey’s younger brother Nico, who makes Ryan Dean feel paranoid that he’s avoiding him. Will Ryan Dean ever regain his sanity?

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This was a solid sequel. Many of the issues that I felt were brushed off or lightly resolved in ‘Winger’ have been addressed in ‘Stand-off.’ Especially the impact of Joey’s circumstances on our protagonist Ryan Dean. This finally felt like a more realistic reaction  – even if I didn’t altogether like the narrative lens, it gave me everything I was looking for.

So too was a lot of the toxic masculinity that was rubbing me the wrong way… though I understand it is very accurate to what teen boys are like in a boarding school environment, it was quite confronting to me as a reader.

There are themes of friendship, family, grief and loss, and consent; the latter which I thought handled so intelligently for the demographic. And the attitudes towards diversity are much more dominant in ‘Stand-off’ to symbolically bring the universe back into balance after the discrimination and bullying we get in ‘Winger.’

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey CarlisleThe narrative is very age appropriate for our protagonist. Ryan Dean has definitely grown up since ‘Winger.’ As a result I found the writing style much more palatable.

The only thing I was certain of in ‘Stand-off’ is that I would see some form of resolution to Joey’s departure… and we got that. So I guess it is a fairly predictable plot, but there were many tangents and new characters that made a very interesting read. Add to that Ryan Dean’s distinct individual form of narration, and you have an engaging read that keeps the tension and pacing right to the end. I managed to complete reading ‘Stand-off’ in two sittings. Which is a great feat considering its 400 page length.

It’s a fun coming of age story and definitely had me shedding some tears in a few spots. I didn’t really “get” the humour – as much as it missed me in ‘Winger’ too… but that’s okay. Different strokes for different folks.

I’d definitely recommend this for younger male readers.

Overall feeling: Pretty good *two thumbs up*

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Stand Off (#2 Winger) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

Critique Casey 2020 by Casey Carlisle

© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘Winger’ (#1 Winger) by Andrew Smith

A masculine approach to some heavy themes.

Winger (#1 Winger) Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlisleGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

No. of pages: 439

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Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids in the Pacific Northwest. He’s living in Opportunity Hall, the dorm for troublemakers, and rooming with the biggest bully on the rugby team. And he’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, who thinks of him as a little boy.

With the help of his sense of humor, rugby buddies, and his penchant for doodling comics, Ryan Dean manages to survive life’s complications and even find some happiness along the way. But when the unthinkable happens, he has to figure out how to hold on to what’s important, even when it feels like everything has fallen apart.

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A realistic contemporary coming from a uniquely masculine protagonist.

Winger’ was a challenging read for me. On one hand, the narrative is quintessential for our protagonist Ryan Dean ‘Winger’ West. Short satirical chapters resounding clearly from his fourteen year old brain as he navigates private boarding school, playing rugby, bullies, girls, and having a best friend who happens to be gay. The writing style is perfect for the main character and the target market. It deals with themes and issues expertly through this lens.

Alternatively, it was really hard for me to swallow all the toxic masculinity and immaturity. I just about tore my hair out. But this is my personal choice – I tend to shy away books that blatantly wave these flags in my face. Understandably, as difficult as it was for me to stomach, if you set foot in any private boys’ boarding house, you’ll find this atmosphere front and centre.

The other thing that had me going ‘hrmm’ was the plot twist at the end. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t know how it affected the protagonists journey… he’d resolved and changed by this point. Then, in the aftermath of the event, I don’t think it was dealt with sympathetically. It felt an emotionless observation. And while it did affect Ryan Dean, it did not seem to have a resounding permanence. What was the lesson learned? How did it change him? Maybe we’ll explore these themes further in  the sequel ‘Stand-Off,’ but I failed to see what its inclusion in ‘Winger’ was apart from shock value and driving home the theme of toxic masculinity, bullying, and homophobia.

Winger (#1 Winger) Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlisle

The characters were summarily interesting, but not altogether complex. I did not really find myself investing much in any of them… apart from maybe secretly shipping Ryan Dean and Joey. But, even considering ‘Winger’s’ length and simplistic plot and character outlines, the development and world building was fantastic and held up the story. So too did the witty anecdotes, short chapters, and large formatting of the hard cover. So ‘Winger’ was a relatively fast and easy read.

There is a certain type of dry immaturity to the humour in ‘Winger’ that would really appeal to a certain type of reader, and while it was hilarious in some spots for me, I did not find it as funny as I was expecting. I guess as an older female, all the young teen boy amusements were lost on me. In fact I was in danger of my eyes falling out of my skull from the excessive eye-rolling.

All in all, ‘Winger’ was an okay read for me. I’d only recommend it for younger male readers, or those looking to experience a new perspective. I appreciate this novel for all its merits, but it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable read. But I will finish the series with ‘Stand-Off’ as I am curious to see how author Andrew Smith addresses the themes presented towards the end of this novel, and whether protagonist Ryan Dean grows because of the experience. I’ll be very disappointed if it is another journal-esque account of boarding school and fails to address the damaging attitudes of Pine Mountain boarding school.

Overall feeling: Teen boy tunnel vision.

Winger (Winger #1) Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlisle

Winger (Winger #1) Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlisle

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© Casey Carlisle 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Book Review – ‘The Music of What Happens’ by Bill Konigsberg

One of the best contemporaries I’ve read this summer.

The Music of What Happens Book Review Pic 01 by Casey CarlilseGenre: Y/A, Contemporary, Romance

No. of pages: 338

From Goodreads:

Max: Chill. Sports. Video games. Gay and not a big deal, not to him, not to his mom, not to his buddies. And a secret: An encounter with an older kid that makes it hard to breathe, one that he doesn’t want to think about, ever.

Jordan: The opposite of chill. Poetry. His “wives” and the Chandler Mall. Never been kissed and searching for Mr. Right, who probably won’t like him anyway. And a secret: A spiraling out of control mother, and the knowledge that he’s the only one who can keep the family from falling apart.

Throw in a rickety, 1980s-era food truck called Coq Au Vinny. Add in prickly pears, cloud eggs, and a murky idea of what’s considered locally sourced and organic. Place it all in Mesa, Arizona, in June, where the temp regularly hits 114. And top it off with a touch of undeniable chemistry between utter opposites.

Over the course of one summer, two boys will have to face their biggest fears and decide what they’re willing to risk — to get the thing they want the most.

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This is a quaint contemporary with two gay protagonists told in alternating perspectives, switching with each chapter. Max and Jordan each have their own issues to wrestle with, and ‘The Music of What Happens’ is a fantastic character driven story that had me hooked from the first page.

Max is a sporty ‘dude guy’ who on the surface seems to have it all going his way. Out to his closest circle of friends, he’s comfortable in his role as the smiling, friendly jock – that is until he gets to know Jordan after accepting a job to work in his food van. Later he begins to question why he puts up this smiling front, stand up to his father who may be exuding some toxic masculinity, and falling into a dangerous situation which will have long standing repercussions.

Jordan has a reactionary personality, but is the responsible one in the family ever since his father died three years ago. Jordan and his mother are still dealing with the loss. With the bank threatening to repossess their family home because of his mother’s gambling addiction, Jordan rolls up his sleeves and runs his father’s food truck in hope of making enough money to keep their house. But it’s difficult when you don’t know a thing about food trucks. It’s a steep learning curve – especially when being prepared is not a part of your personality. Jordan is pretty naive and innocent in terms of the wilder world, him and his two female best friends (his wives) live in their own little bubble. Meeting Max helps bring him out of his shell and learn to be a little more independent. Take a stand. It’s a good thing too because like the frequent dust storms that weather Mesa, Arizona, Jordan will need these new skills, and his friends, to make it through an oncoming storm of a different nature.

Having two well-rounded main characters, flaws and all, draw and grow from each other was a wonderful concept to slowly evolve on the pages of ‘The Music of What Happens.’ The best friends of both of our main characters are supportive, have their own small arcs, and it was a real testament to friendship. We also see parents have a fairly strong presence in the narrative, warts and all.

The Music of What Happens Book Review Pic 02 by Casey Carlilse

The Music of What Happens’ was instantly relatable for me. Having lost a parent, being a proud furbaby parent, and knowing what it’s like to have to get your head down and bum up and work your behind off for fear of losing your home… I saw so much of my youth in this novel. Not to mention the witty, catty banter of Jordan’s ‘wives’ is so much like my high school girlfriends. Revealing tragic family secrets – like coming out in a sense… this book has a lot going on, and it’s all handled with a gentle composure.

I’ve enjoyed Bill Konigsberg’s writing style in everything of his I’ve read. He always managed to make me cry, laugh and gasp in every novel. For a contemporary this is paced really well. I never had a moment of needing to rest or skim forward. Totally engaging. And I loved the inclusivity of the narrative with diverse backgrounds across the board.

Some trigger warnings around sexual assault, addiction, minor swearing, but it’s all dealt with in a delicate and responsible manner that does not have me concerned in letting the younger end of the YA demographic reading ‘The Music of What Happens.’

The plot is predictable in that I could see the two main characters ending up together – but in contemporaries these days, its never certain that they remain that way. Besides that, there are plot twists I did not see coming. Really. I was shocked. It was a delicious read.

On a side note – loving the cover art. I’m seeing a lot more of the hand-drawn artwork, like for a manga or comic.

Highly recommend this one for lovers of YA Contemporaries and LGBTQIA+ representation.

Overall feeling: Atmospheric

The Music of What Happens Book Review Pic 03 by Casey Carlilse

The Music of What Happens Book Review Pic 04 by Casey Carlilse

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© Casey Carlisle 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Casey Carlisle with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.