Stand-Off

Illustrated by Sam Bosma
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About The Book

Ryan Dean West is back to his boarding school antics in this “brave [and] wickedly funny” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) sequel to Winger.

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?

From the author of 100 Sideways Miles, which Kirkus Reviews called “a wickedly witty and offbeat novel,” Stand-Off is filled with hand-drawn infographics and illustrations and delivers the same spot-on teen voice and relatable narrative that legions of readers connected with in Winger.

Excerpt

Stand-Off CHAPTER ONE
OKAY. YOU KNOW HOW WHEN you’re a senior in high school, and you officially know absolutely everything about everything and no one can tell you different, but on the other hand, at the same time, you’re dumber than a poorly translated instruction manual for a spoon?

Yeah. That was pretty much me, all at the same time, the only fifteen-year-old boy to ever be in twelfth grade at Pine Mountain Academy.



When you’re a senior, you’re supposed to walk around with your chest out and your shoulders back because it’s like you own the place, right? I didn’t feel that way. In fact, from the first day I got back to Pine Mountain, I was quietly considering flunking out of all my classes so I wouldn’t have to move on with my life and be a sixteen-year-old grown-up.

What a bunch of bullshit that would undoubtedly be.

And, speaking of bullshit, the day I came back to Pine Mountain Academy to check in and register, I learned that I would be rooming—in a double-single room no less—with some random kid I didn’t even know. It had somehow failed to sink in to my soiled-napkin brain that my last year’s roommates, Chas Becker and Kevin Cantrell, had graduated from Pine Mountain and moved on to the fertile breeding grounds of adulthood, leaving me roommateless, condemned to a single-size room with two beds in it, and matched up with Joe Randomkid, whom I’d already pictured as some bloated, tobacco-chewing, overalls-wearing midwesterner who was missing half a finger from a lawn-mowing or wheat-threshing accident and owned a vast collection of ’70s porn mags (since we weren’t allowed to access the Internet at PM and look at real porn like most teenagers do).

Not that I look at porn, like most normal teenagers. I’m not like that.

But nine-and-a-half-fingered Joe Randomkid would be exactly like that, I decided.

So by the time I turned the key on my all-new, 130-square-foot boys’ dorm prison cell with two twin beds, two coffin-size closets, and matching elementary-school-kid-style desks with identical 40-watt desk lamps, I already deeply hated Joe Randomkid and, at the same time, had no idea in the world who he was.

Even before I fully opened the door on our bottom-floor-which-is-usually-only-reserved-for-freshmen dorm room, I had pretty much everything about Joe Randomkid all figured out.
JOE RANDOMKID RUINS TWELFTH GRADE: A PLAY BY RYAN DEAN WEST
SCENE: A very small ground-floor room in the boys’ dorm at Pine Mountain Academy, a prestigious prep school for future deviants and white-collar criminals, located in the Cascades of Oregon. joe randomkid, a chubby and pale redhead from Nebraska with a stalk of straw pinched between his lips, is lying with his hands behind his head, dressed in overalls (with no shirt underneath the bib) and work boots, on one of the two prison-size twin beds, as ryan dean west, a skinny, Bostonian, rugby-playing fifteen-year-old upperclassman, enters the room from the outer hallway.

JOE RANDOMKID: Howdy! The name’s Joe. Joe Randomkid. I’m from Nebraska, and my pa’s a hog farmer. We have, I reckon, close to twenty-two-hundred hogs on the farm, give or take a few depending on how hungry me and my brothers are. I have ten brothers! And no sisters! Can you imagine that? Ten of them! Their names are Billy, Wayne, Charlie, Alvin, Edmund, Donny, Timothy, Michael, Eugene, and Barry, and then there’s me, Joe. How come I ain’t ever seen you around? Are you a new kid? I been here every year since ninth grade, but you look like you’re just a kid who can’t possibly be old enough to be in twelfth grade. What sport do you play? Me? I’m on the bowling team. Got a two-oh-four average, which is number one in the state in Nebraska and Oregon for twelfth-grade boys. I bet being all skinny like that, you’re on swim team or maybe gymnastics. Or do you cheer? Are you one of those boy cheerleaders? I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Cheerleading’s probably more of a sport than NASCAR is anyhow. Who’s your favorite driver, by the way? Are you one of them ones who get to pick up the girls and spin them around over your head like that? If I ever did that, I couldn’t help but look up their skirts, am I right? Or do you not like girls and stuff? ’Cause if you don’t, that’s okay too. I realize it takes all kinds. All kinds. And maybe you’re from California, after all.

RYAN DEAN WEST: (Ryan Dean West walks across the room and looks out the window.) Now I know why they put me on the ground floor.

The End

Mom and Dad had helped me move in this time. It was weird. All the other times they’d dropped me off at Pine Mountain, it was like they couldn’t possibly leave fast enough.

Dad carried in my two plastic totes. One of them contained all my clothes and boy stuff—you know, deodorant and the razor Dad sent me last fall that was still as unnecessary as ever—and the other had school supplies, some brand new bedsheets, and a microwave oven, which I had no idea why they’d insisted I bring along. I lugged in the big canvas duffel bag filled with all my rugby gear that was soon to be packed away in my locker over at the sports complex.

I wanted to play rugby again almost as much as I wanted to see Annie, whom I hadn’t seen since she left Boston for Seattle five days before.

And—ugh!—Mom cried when she put my new sheets on the exceedingly gross, slept-on-countless-times-before, yellowing boys’ dorm twin-size fucking mattress, and I just stood there, helplessly giving my dad a what-the-fuck look. He shrugged.

At home in Boston, I had a big bed. I’m not sure where my Boston bed fit in on the hierarchy of royalty—you know, queens and kings and such—but it was easily twice as big as a twin, if this thing even was an actual twin. It was probably a preemie or something—the afterbirth of a twin. So we’d had to stop at a department store in this little town called Bannock, which is about twenty minutes from Pine Mountain, to get some sheets, and the only ones they had that would fit my dorm bed following the incoming rush of PM brats were pink flannel and decorated with a winged unicorn who, according to the inscription beneath her glinting hooves, was named Princess Snugglewarm.

Yeah. It was going to be a great year, wasn’t it?

“Why are you crying, Mom? Don’t worry about the unicorns. We can hide them beneath the blanket. I checked. It only has Princess Snugglewarm on one side, so we can flip it over so it only looks a little gay,” I said.

Mom sniffled. “Oh, Ryan Dean. It’s not that, baby. There’s only so many more times left in our lives when I’ll be able to put sheets on your bed and tuck you in.”

This coming from the woman who wept when she bought me a box of condoms because she actually thought Annie and I were having sex—like that was ever going to happen—when I was fourteen.

It was hopeless.

And not only do horses with big fucking spikes coming out of their heads scare me, but I hate flannel sheets besides.

Reading Group Guide

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.

About The Author

Photograph by Kaija Bosket

Andrew Smith is the author of several novels for young adults, including WingerStand-Off100 Sideways Miles, and the Michael L. Printz Honor Book Grasshopper Jungle. He lives in a remote area in the mountains of Southern California with his family, two horses, two dogs, and three cats. He doesn’t watch television, and occupies himself by writing, bumping into things outdoors, and taking ten-mile runs on snowy trails.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (September 2016)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781481418300
  • Grades: 7 and up
  • Ages: 12 - 99
  • Lexile ® 900L

Raves and Reviews

*"A brave, wickedly funny novel about grief and finding a way to live with it, with sweetly realistic first sexual experiences."

– Kirkus Reviews, starred review

*"Ryan Dean’s voice remains engaging, honest, and idiosyncratic (a page-long internal monologue follows his discovery of two teammates in a compromising situation). Smith capably expands on Ryan Dean’s coming-of-age and path to emotional recovery, chronicled through his crude comics and growing maturity."

– Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Smith has created a consistently interesting character whose singular sense of humor grows on readers. Plus, he nails the rough-and-tumble sport of rugby. This sequel won’t disappoint fans."

– Booklist

*"The novel succeeds not only as an emotionally satisfying sequel but as a hopeful, honest account of coping with a devastating loss."

– School Library Journal, starred review

Awards and Honors

  • Kansas State Reading Circle List Starred High School Title
  • Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year Selection Title

Resources and Downloads

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More books from this author: Andrew Smith