Author: Andrew Smith
Format: Paperback, 464 pages
Publication: September 2nd 2014 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers (first published May 14th 2013)
Source: Bought from Fully Booked
Genre: Fiction—Coming of Age, Contemporary, Humor, Realistic, Romance, Young Adult
Other keywords: Boarding School
Ryan Dean West’s life is complicated.
He’s a fourteen-year-old junior at Pine Mountain, a boarding school for rich kids. He’s stuck rooming with the biggest jerk on the rugby team in the dorm for miscreants and trouble makers. And he’s totally in love with his best friend, Annie, who thinks of him as a little kid.
As Ryan Dean tries to get a handle on school, life, and rugby, he finds himself muddling through a lot of decisions and making some major mistakes along the way. But nothing can prepare him for what comes next. And when the unthinkable happens, Ryan Dean has to find a way to hold on to the important things—no matter what.
Disclaimer: I am inarticulate and this review cannot hope to bring justice to the class act that is Winger.
With a pitch-perfect character voice, unflinchingly bawdy humor, spot-on illustration and out-of-nowhere-in-your-gut knockout punch, I fell completely in love with Winger. I’m still in a book hangover, really.
“”Dude, her being pissed just shows how much she cares about you,” Seanie said.
That sounded like something you’d tell your kid before giving him a spanking.”
I’m a big fan of humor, especially—albeit not exclusively—wry. But almost every single book I’ve read in the past, with the exception of Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple and one scene from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, wasn’t able to elicit that much savored, much anticipated no-really-I-am-laughing-out-loud-in-real-life laugh. It’s frequently just snorting and I’m-laughing-on-the-inside-right-now kind of thing, which is fun too but you get my point. Winger, however, is another beast. I snickered at page 3 and by 13 had my first laugh IRL. At page 51, it was obvious Winger will be an all-time favorite (spoiler: I was right, heck was I right). The tone is impeccable and Sam Bosma, who did the illustrations, understands Smith’s work and that fully comes across in his comics and charts and diagrams, which not only are outrageously hilarious but are also windows to our protagonist’s wits and sensibility.
“”Aww,” she said. “What a cute boy.”
Okay, I’ll be honest. I think she actually said “little boy,” but it was so traumatizing to hear that I may have blocked it out.”
Ryan Dean West, the narrator and our hero, has one of the most genuine, honest character voices I’ve ever read. He’s smart and angsty and funny and hormonal and dorky and he knows it. His voice and story resonate with such effortlessness and gravity. I believe there is something equally captivating and aching in coming-of-age stories, and Smith neatly captures this raw, beautiful—if often awkward and painful—teenage experience. Winger feels like an instant classic.
“After that, I didn’t have any idea what to say. I just sat there staring at her. I was so lost, I even thought about the Preamble to the Constitution.
I, the people, am such a loser.”
I also adore the relationship RDW has with the secondary characters; almost everyone jumps off the page. His former roommates Seanie and JP both have their own flavor and texture. It is no feat to picture Seanie doing his stalking outside the curtains. Chas Becker, his roommate, has got to be my favorite. I was kind of reminded of Cath and Reagan from Fangirl, but, like, raise the bar to the outermost limit of mean. I enjoyed the threats and banters and admire how Smith developed the relationship between these two people who couldn’t have been more disparate. Then there’s Joey Cosentino who’s super awesome and sort of provides the parental, authoritative figure for our protagonist. He’s gay and awesome.
“‘Cause I knew what it felt like too, being so not-like-all-the-other-guys-here. And I don’t mean I know what it felt like to be gay, because I don’t, but I do know what it felt like to be the “only” one of something.”
As for the plot, it’s easy for a reader to convince himself that he knows what the author is going for. And I almost fooled myself. But I didn’t see the trajectory of the story until it’s staring me in the face. That’s not saying it’s unrealistic; it’s skillful. The emotionally charged final act will stab the reader but leave him with hope. Plus, the story telling is just downright masterful. Andrew Smith irrevocably won me over with Winger and I surely am going to pick more of his titles.
Andrew Smith is the author of several award-winning novels for young adults, including The Marbury Lens. 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. He maintains a blog about his strange writing life.