Winger – Andrew Smith

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Synopsis

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.

Review

Give this book a chance… and do NOT judge it by its cover. Yes, the image is shockingly relevant to the story. Yes, it’s rather gross. But there’s so much more depth to Winger than one would first think. Bear with it.

If you asked me at any point during parts 1-3 of this book whether or not I even found it conceivable to feel so heavy and heartbroken at the end of this book, I would have laughed in your face. But it happened. Part 4: Words meant everything. It breathed meaning and truth into this book that, for the most part, felt rambunctious but irrelevant.

I frequently laughed out loud while reading Winger, and loved its cheerfulness. Ryan Dean West had such a great voice, and spoke in a way only a fourteen-year-old junior could. He was so self-deprecating and humourous. However, for the most part, I felt like the story wasn’t going anywhere. I was slightly disappointed that the largest conflict was a love triangle. Well, as soon as the end of part 3 came near, I quickly realized that the conflict was more deeply wound in the story, dealing with people and their ways of being. The conflict kept inching closer and closer, like a speeding bullet that I wanted to cover my eyes from. (view spoiler) The book had to do with life. It had to do with love. Bullying, and just how cruel people could be to others — especially to people they loved but didn’t want to love. The issue should have been a non-issue, and it wasn’t (to Ryan Dean). But at the same time, it meant everything to others.

Andrew Smith explained these nuances around the issue beautifully — how people tensed up and became uncomfortable around these differences. The venn diagram was a perfect way to describe it: everyone is so similar to everyone else, but there’s always that one thing outside the circle that made you different. And it became so all-consuming to you to the point that it was all that mattered. And as a result, it defined you to others as well. I didn’t even realize it until I got to the end of the story, but this was a book about acceptance. And it was done in such a real, tragic, and raw way.

The seemingly frivolous first three parts were crucial. They helped create such a stark contrast to the end of the book. Andrew Smith put such an emphasis on the good times, because that’s what mattered in the end. I’m glad those moments were in such detail, while all his other “words” were short and succinct. The good (and crazy) times allowed Ryan Dean to survive through everything. Over the course of the book, we saw Ryan Dean build a wonderful support system for himself. Joey was a big part of it, and I can’t even imagine what it would be like in Ryan Dean’s place — knowing he could have made a difference, but was unable to do so in the end. That part of the story tore me up.

As Ryan Dean would say, five-out-of-five-crass-but-tragic-stars.

Related Reading

I’m going to list a bunch of books that seem unrelated to one another, yet all tie into Winger. It was so relevant.

  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green and David Levithan
  • Anything by David Levithan, for that matter
  • The Universe Versus Alex Woods – Gavin Extence (dealing with the aftermath of real issues)
  • Life in Outer Space – Melissa Keil (quirky voice and adorable love story)
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Jesse Andrews (similar protagonist personality, i.e. low self-esteem)
  • Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher (similar gutwrenching after-taste)
  • Books with descriptions of sports

Rating: 5/5

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