December 11, 2013

Review: Winger by Andrew Smith

Title: Winger
Author: Andrew Smith
Release Date: May 14th, 2013
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Page Count: 439
Source: Purchased
First Reaction: WHOA. O.O
Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids. 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.

Filled with hand-drawn info-graphics and illustrations and told in a pitch-perfect voice, this realistic depiction of a teen’s experience strikes an exceptional balance of hilarious and heartbreaking.

[Summary Source: Goodreads]


Winger is about this boy named Ryan Dean who's 14 but also two grade levels ahead of where he should be. He also got into trouble the year before and lives in Opportunity Hall - the hall for delinquints. So all his friends are 16+ and live in not Opportunity Hall and it's like, "Oh, weird, I'm the odd man out." But he's also not the odd man out because he does have friends and he plays rugby and he likes his best friend who's 16 and she thinks it's weird to like a 14 year old boy. But really this book is just about Ryan Dean trying to figure out his life and all of the weird/bad/good/tragic things that happen in it. In hindsight. Because this book was "written" after the fact. (As in, Ryan Dean's the narrator reflecting on what happened.) I hope my re-worded summary made sense just there, but probably not, so refer to the real summary above, please.

What I Like About You:

Winger is one of those books that kind of just plots down in someone's life and hits play. Like, when you start the book, you have no idea what's going to happen at the end. It's just this kid, telling us a bit about himself and the silly things he gets up to. There's no new kid who walks in and changes everything. Ryan Dean doesn't suddenly find out his dad is a criminal or he has super powers. And there's definitely no traumatic even to start us off (unless you count the first day of school as a traumatic event - 14 year old Gaby definitely would have). He's just this 14 year old who's always been the youngest trying to be more of a 16 year old like all of his friends are.

And this is what goes on for much of the book. We watch Ryan Dean pretend to be a grown up, make a mess of his life, receive some advice, make more of a mess of his life and then maybe actually grow up a little. All of this makes for a truly wonderful coming of age story. I'd read about Ryan Dean's junior year again and again, really. (Especially since I clearly had no idea what was going on in the mind of a 14 year old back in the day.) 

But some of the rest of this book (especially the ending), is about something much bigger than just Ryan Dean going through his daily activities and, in general, trying to sort out what the heck he wants out of his life. Now, even if this shocking plot development hadn't come up at the end, I think I would have still loved this book for what it was. Especially because of the fun(ny) romance. But the ending really solidified this as one of those heartbreaking, I-just-can't-believe-it kind of books. 

Obviously, I'm not going to tell you how this book threw my heart into one of those fancy shredders that makes things completely un-piece-back-together-able, but, guys? It's good.

Another thing I love about this book is Joey. (Yes, he's a thing, OKAY?) I love Joey because he's gay and not the main character. I feel like a lot of the LGBT books out there now insist on making the main character gay, but it doesn't have to be that way. Joey is like this big brother, advice-giving figure for Ryan Dean and he's just as important as the main character, in my opinion. He's totally likable, not the least bit stereotypical and he's one of those quiet, strong types who might have ended up in Opportunity Hall because he brawls a little too much, but still manages to be the sweetest, most fantastic character in the book. And I don't even wish he was the main character of this book. Ryan Dean was the perfect main character and Joey was his perfect supporting actor. 

I also really loved Annie. She's behaves just like any teenage girl in her situation would and I love it. I think it's crazy how well her character was developed and portrayed, given that this whole book is told from the perspective of a teenage boy. Like, how do you even paint such a brilliantly accurate picture, Andrew Smith? I don't even know. 

Another excellent thing about this book is the illustrations. I kind of have a crush on the cover model of this book, but I love the illustrated version of the cover even more. The comics in the book are similarly fantastic. There aren't too many or too few - it's honestly the perfect balance of comic and prose, I wouldn't change a thing.

The last thing I want to touch upon is the way Ryan Dean relates to everyone in this story - not just Annie and Joey. His parents, his old roommates before he moved to Opportunity Hall, his new roommate, his roommate's girlfriend, his teammates... Everyone. It all felt so authentic. I really felt like there was a 14 year old in front of me, telling me a story about all of these things that happened to happen to him in the last year. Like, I sat down and said, tell me about everything starting from the first day of junior year until now, don't plot, just go chronologically and let me into your life. 

And what a hilarious, mischievous, absurd and heartbreaking life this boy has.

The long and short of it?

It's like Ryan Dean is your good friend and he's just sitting there telling you about his life. Which is nice, because everyone can use a new friend.
World Building: I could have definitely used this book as a guide to the boys in my life when I was 14. Add this to the list of books I'm putting in a time machine and sending back to 14 year old Gaby.
Character Development: Ryan Dean and all the rest were as incredibly authentic a they come.
Prose: I'm gonna use the word authentic again. It just works. And the comics/illustrations were fantastic.
Would I Recommend This Book?: Yes. A million times yes. Even if you're not usually so into realistic fiction, you're gonna wanna pick this one up. (Warning: This book can be a little crude. And there are thoughts of the naughty nature. So you might want to be careful giving this to a younger teen.)

Have you read Winger? Do you know what happens at the end of this book? Can we please have spoiler-y conversations about it in the comments below? (I clearly want to be heartbroken all over again.)