Review: Winger by Andrew Smith

WingerTitle: Winger

Author: Andrew Smith

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Release Date: May 14th, 2013

Interest: Contemp / Guy appeal / Humor / Illustrated

Source: Borrowed from the library

Summary (From Goodreads):

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.

Right now I’m having a difficult time figuring out what I want to say about Winger because Andrew Smith left me heartbroken and hopeful at the same time.  I can say that Ryan Dean West is now one of my favorite characters and Winger is now one of my favorite books.

I absolutely love finding books with guy appeal.  Winger falls into this category perfectly.  Ryan Dean’s voice struck true from the first to the last page.  He’s a fourteen-year-old boy and he talks, thinks, and acts like one.  Believe me, I’ve taught freshmen boys for the past six years.  There’s bathroom humor and humor from things that probably aren’t supposed to be funny, but Ryan Dean’s reactions and thoughts make this a laugh out loud book.  For the first 4oo pages I was constantly laughing and smiling.  Andrew Smith’s writing in this book made me think of Geoff Herbach’s writing in Stupid Fast.  Both stories are funny, include sports, and will get guys reading, but they also delve into a deeper story.

When I read that this is heartbreaking, I kept waiting for something heartbreaking to happen and wondering what it would be.  I was both prepared and unprepared for the moment.  I’m not going to go into too much detail because I don’t want to take away from that experience for you when you read Winger.  I read the page and sighed because I expected something like that to happen.  I turned the page, let the moment and scene hit me, and then I cried.  Not long after I finished reading this I still had to keep taking deep breaths.  I wasn’t sobbing or anything, but I had to let myself digest what I read.  I spent so much time loving this book and getting to know the characters that this moment felt like a punch in the face.  And I mean that in the best possible way.  I have mixed feelings about where this scene is placed, but I understand the reasoning for it.  When you read it, which I hope you will, we should discuss it.

Now, on to the whole John Green thing.  I can already see the comparisons to John Green’s writing and one of his books in particular.  I get it.  BUT, Winger is not that book and Andrew Smith is not John Green.  I love John Green and all, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one of his books and thought, “Yeah, my kids are just like (insert character name).”  I’ve read his books and thought of students who would like reading them, but I’ve never been able to picture one of my students as a character.  The characters in Winger are REAL.  I pictured a number of former students and others when I was reading this.  I’m confident that my students will appreciate this when they read it.

The copy of Winger I read belongs to my local library, but you can be sure that I plan on buying at least two copies of this book for my classroom library.  It’s that kind of book.  Andrew Smith has written something special.

Similar Reads: Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach, Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Highlight at the end of this for a title rec if you’re okay with a spoiler: October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman

Comments

  1. Wow, this author must be amazing to evoke so much emotion. I have to agree with you, I love John Green, but you don’t read his books and say, hey, that character reminds me of so-and-so. I don’t think I ever thought about that before. But if this author writes real, relatable characters…that’s a talent. And I’m really intrigued by the heartbreaking scene (and completely dreading it). Great review!

  2. I LOVE this book. Ryan Dean is the most realistic teen boy protagonist I have ever read! I’m a teacher-in-training right now, and though boy-appeal books are not always the first ones I grab for when I’m reading for myself, this book was simply outstanding. I need to read more books with teen boy appeal. Excellent review; I definitely think this book will appeal to readers who liked Stupid Fast (and vice versa) – I liked Stupid Fast but ohmygoodness I absolutely loved Winger. I read a library copy and immediately had to buy a copy for myself. I hope your students love it as much as I did!

  3. The John Green comparison is understandable, but sort of takes away from the appeal of this book. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels that way! Great review!

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