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A Reading Group Guide to Stand-Off
By Andrew Smith Summary
In a heartbreaking emotional journey after the tragic death of his beloved best friend Joey, fifteen-year-old high school senior and varsity rugby stand-off and team captain, Ryan Dean West, begins an isolated and awkward struggle to work through his overwhelming grief and rebuild his life. Ryan Dean’s loss is more than the loss of his best friend. He has lost himself. He has lost his heart.
At the close of Ryan Dean’s junior year at Pine Mountain Academy, and Andrew Smith’s novel Winger
, we saw Ryan Dean numbed and silenced by Joey’s death. In Stand-Off,
the follow-up, we find Ryan Dean exhausted from increasingly disturbing night terrors and panic attacks in the suffocating presence of N.A.T.E., an anticipation of the Next-Accidental-Terrible-Experience. What will it take for Ryan Dean to pull himself together, to make sense of his world, and to find himself again?
Struggling to balance his intensely muddled emotions with his quirky sense of humor, Ryan Dean begins to understand the need for letting go, and that sometimes you just can’t fix things on your own. Discussion Questions
1. Andrew Smith uses Ryan Dean’s distinctively teen voice in a metanarrative of restless contemplation and reflection. How does this affect the way in which you experienced the story? What does it mean to you, as a reader, to be entrusted with Ryan Dean’s personal truths, his experiences, and his innermost thoughts?
2. Everyone deals with death differently. Andrew Smith has shown how the loss of a beloved best friend affects Ryan Dean’s already complex emotional life. Can you identify with Ryan Dean’s painful sense of isolation and helplessness, his fears, and his anxieties? In what ways can you identify with them?
3. How would you describe Ryan Dean’s early relationship with Sam Abernathy? Is this the Ryan Dean you learned to love in Winger
? What are your feelings for Ryan Dean at this point in the story? Think about what it must feel like to be Ryan Dean. What do you think your relationships would be like? How do you think you would express your fears?
4. Under the circumstances, do you think Ryan Dean’s anger toward Sam is justified?
5. How does Sam, in all his youthful cheerfulness, respond to Ryan Dean’s cruelty? Why do you think Sam puts up with Ryan Dean’s emotional and physical abuse even though, as Ryan Dean admits, “There was no reason for him to treat me with kindness?” How would you respond to Ryan Dean under the same circumstances?
6. Ryan Dean’s displaced anger is focused both outwardly and inwardly, with helplessness and fear layered beneath that anger. What other conflicting emotions is he experiencing? What is Ryan Dean so afraid of?
7. Nate appears to Ryan Dean in ominous ways over which Ryan Dean has no control. How does he describe Nate? How does he describe his night terrors and panic attacks? What do they signify? Ryan Dean tells himself, “Nate isn’t real and he can’t hurt you.” Discuss Ryan Dean’s reasoning about Nate.
8. The stand-off on a rugby team is a highly-skilled, quick-thinking strategist, standing apart, making decisions for the team. How does this position serve as a metaphor for the story? The first game of the season provided important defining and decisive turning points for Ryan Dean. How did those moments change him?
9. Ryan Dean suggested that Joey’s room in O-Hall was “fossilized in time.” How is this symbolic of the effect of Joey’s death on Ryan Dean? On Nico?
10. Consider Ryan Dean’s hope that Joey’s spirit might be lingering on his shirt and tie from his old room in O-Hall, and that if Ryan Dean wears it, Joey might calm him down and help him get through the game. What does this tell us about Ryan Dean? What does it tell us about his friendship with Joey?
11. Read aloud Ryan Dean’s speech to the rugby team. What significance does his encouragement to the team have to the rest of the story? What does it tell you about Ryan Dean’s understanding of his own healing process?
12. It is often said that everyone is a mirror in which we eventually see ourselves. What does Ryan Dean eventually learn about himself from the mirror Sam provides? At what point does Ryan Dean begin to understand that Sam “already was exactly
like me,” and see himself as he really is? What does Ryan Dean eventually learn about himself in the mirror Nico provides? At what point does Ryan Dean begin to understand this?
13. Ryan Dean admits, “O-Hall never did anything to reform me. What O-Hall did do to me, though, was make me realize how human we all are, how we all have weaknesses and little empty spots that are almost impossible to fill.” What do you think he means by this?
14. Ryan Dean tells us that Annie Altman is the most beautiful person he knows. What character traits does she possess? In what ways does Annie play a pivotal role in the growth of Ryan Dean’s emotional maturity and healing?
15. What is the nature of Ryan Dean’s relationship with Seanie? Why does Ryan Dean value Seanie’s friendship as much as he does?
16. Consider Ryan Dean’s comic, “Consent Boy, a True American Hero.” In what ways is Ryan Dean a hero? Discuss this with regard to his relationship with Annie Altman. How does consent factor into Ryan Dean’s relationship with Spotted John? Is the idea of consent just sexual, or does it involve a mutual willingness with regard to the initiation of friendships, such as with Ryan Dean’s invitation of friendship to Nico?
17. Andrew Smith creates a contrast between the ways in which Nico and Ryan Dean grieve Joey’s death. Ryan Dean eventually reaches out for friendship. Nico rejects it. Discuss the similarities and differences between how the two boys grieve and the changes in their grief processes over time.
18. Nico provides a point of catharsis for Ryan Dean by bringing him to the beach where Joey’s ashes had been scattered. How does this affect the way in which Ryan Dean resolves his grief and accepts Joey’s death? What realizations allowed Ryan Dean to let Joey go? What does this scene reveal about Nico’s character? How does this change their relationship? Questions for Further Discussion
1. Consider the sociocultural environment at Pine Mountain Academy. Does it support the growth of healthy relationships?
2. Annie and Sam encourage Ryan Dean to seek support from the school psychologist, Mrs. Dvorak, to help deal with his anxiety and feelings of helplessness and emotional pain. Do you think this was a good suggestion?
3. Ryan Dean has a propensity for making impulsive choices and breaking rules. What conventional rules did Ryan Dean break? He admitted, “Never once did I think to myself, hey, Ryan Dean, what . . . do you suppose you’re doing?” When, if ever, do you think it’s acceptable to break conventional rules?
4. Consider the significance of a handshake to the Pine Mountain rugby players. How does this compound Nico’s rejection of Ryan Dean’s extended hand?
5. In what ways does Ryan Dean gradually mature and separate from Pine Mountain? Do you think he is ready to move forward to lead a meaningful and fulfilling life?
6. What principles, values, and characteristics does Ryan Dean have that you admire? Related Activities
1. Recurring themes and motifs of morality, friendships, romance and sexuality, grief and loss, emotional struggle and growth, and a quest to define oneself run through coming-of-age stories. Review Stand-Off
with another coming-of-age story. Discuss major themes or patterns, pivotal characters, and turning points.
2. Review The Bill of Rights of Grieving Teens
online. Read “A Grieving Teen Has the Right . . .” presented by the Dougy Center, the National Center for Grieving Children & Families. Discuss these rights with your peer group, and the effects they may have had in your own life. Are there additional rights you think could be added?
3. Sam Abernathy suffers from extreme claustrophobia, characterized by an irrational fear of confined spaces. Research the causes, symptoms, and treatments of claustrophobia. Considering Sam’s childhood trauma (“I would have never gotten out of that well when I was four if people didn’t come to help me”), do you think Sam’s claustrophobic fears are irrational? Or do you think his fears are justified? Consider Ryan Dean’s fears of Nate. Is there a correlation?
4. Explore the five stages of grief as presented in the classic work, On Grief and Grieving
, by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler. The authors state, “You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss that you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same, nor should you be the same, nor would you want to.” Discuss how this resonates throughout the story, and echoes Joey’s philosophy that things can never be the same, that “nothing ever goes back exactly the way it was.” This guide was written in 2015 by Judith Clifton, M.Ed, MS, Educational and Youth Literary Consultant, Chatham, MA. This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.