Monday, August 5, 2013
by Andrew Smith
Audience: Young Adult
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Read from Netgalley preview
As a scrawny fourteen year old that is already a junior in high school, Ryan Dean West has a way of sticking out. He's smart, a wiry rugby player, and an inadvertent trouble maker, and that's how he lands himself in Opportunity Hall at this prestigious boarding school. Aside from being the youngest student in all of his classes, Ryan Dean is your average fourteen year old boy, which is to say that he is horny for any girl within a 200 mile radius. He's in love with his best friend Annie, he gets into a huge fight with a good friend JP, he's secretly making out with his roommate's girlfriend, and he's becoming good friends with his team captain, Joey, who is openly gay. The whole plot revolves around Ryan Dean's experience in school dealing with girls and friends and sports all with a sense of humor that fits a fourteen year old boy. It's all fun and games until Halloween, then the entire tone of the story changes so drastically that readers will wonder what the real purpose of the book is: Ryan Dean's story, or Joey's.
Be warned: there are spoilers.
Winger has been hanging out on my Kindle for several months and I just never gave it the time of day (much like Annie with Ryan Dean). Then I was looking for something new to read while at the eye doctor, and this seemed like as good a time as any. Lucky for me, it was a long wait, and I was able to read pretty far into the first part of the book. Ryan Dean is a lot to take. He ranks every girl he sees on a hotness scale, and has regular fantasies about them. And he draws plenty of pictures and comics of him being hit on by sexy nurses and stewardesses and the like. I asked me husband if this is how all fourteen year old boys are and he said yeah. We're not having boys. I thought girls would be hard to raise, but I am so not dealing with his.
Horniness aside, Ryan Dean is a good character. He's a jerk to Chas and JP, but he knows it and wants to make things right. He's a really smart kid that is in over his head and he's genuinely funny. And despite all the jerk moves, he was really just taking advantage of an opportunity. In his heart, Ryan Dean is a good kid that is trying to survive high school.
Then there's Joey. Joey is the senior captain of the rugby team and he's gay. It's something that everyone knows and everyone likes to act like they don't have a problem with it. As Ryan Dean becomes better friends with Joey (because Joey is the voice of reason and probably the only person that is keeping Chas from killing him), he keeps saying that it doesn't matter that Joey is gay, but the reader gets the sense that it really does matter. Everyone is so okay with it, but they also don't acknowledge that it might be hard for Joey to be gay, and they don't talk about it at all. Ryan Dean starts talking about it. Actually Ryan Dean is most human when he's with Joey.
And it is hard for Joey. He is attacked after a rugby game, but his roommate takes the blow for him. He is harassed by football players, and in the end, he's killed because he is gay.
So, is this a funny book about a fourteen year old kid, or is it a book about being a true friend to someone that is hurting? Maybe it's both. But honestly, what I remember most about the book right now is the scene describing how Joey died. Everything before that just seems washed out. It's a pretty amazing thing that an author can have me laughing so hard through the vast majority of the book, then bring me to my knees in one sentence.
This is a teen book. No adults allowed, unless, of course, you are a YA junkie and can handle the inner-working of the fourteen year old male mind (and believe me, adults do not want to see what's going on in there!). But it's a powerful book. One that I would really recommend to most high school students and it would also make a great book club book. Let's also think about all of those Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans that are growing up and will need reading material. I think that Winger is the perfect grown-up Wimpy Kid.
In the end, let's all be a better friend. That's the big lesson here. That, and Pokemon underwear are very comfortable.