Winger, by Andrew Smith, is a young adult book portraying the journey of growing up, being a rebellious teenage boy, and surviving all the confusion that comes with it. The main character, Ryan Dean West, resides at a boarding school where he is two years younger than everyone else in his grade. Not only is he the youngest, but he is also the smallest on the rugby team, which evidently leads to a certain amount of bullying. However, this school year he decides things will be different. His self-doubt won’t stop him from being determined to convince his best friend Annie that he is no longer the “little boy” she’s always considered him to be. Nonetheless, he realizes his careless mistakes will make convincing Annie that they are meant for one another much harder than he thought. As if this wasn’t difficult enough, he must survive being roommates with his biggest bully. Ryan Dean West will take “go big or go home” to a whole other level. He will prove to his bullies how courageous he truly is, as well as to anyone else who decides to confront him. The book totals 439 pages and is not part of a series.
This story is pretty easy-going at first, but underneath all the jokes, there is tragedy and learning to live with the post heartache of it. I did not necessarily dislike this book, but I definitely didn’t love it. I fell somewhere in between. This book is mainly intended for a mature audience due to the fact that Ryan Dean gives his point of view through the eyes of a teen boy coming of age. This could be a little disturbing for young female readers. I personally could not relate to most of what Ryan Dean endured, so this is perhaps the main reason for my not loving it. I did constantly find myself anticipating what would happen next, which is always a pleasant component in a book, especially since many books contain foreseeable endings. In addition, there are comic strips included in the story, which portray more of Ryan Dean’s persona and make the story much funnier. However, my absolute favorite detail of this book is how accurately Ryan Dean’s character is interpreted. He acts exactly how an average teenage male his age would.
I would recommend this book to a mature teenage audience, someone who enjoys an honest yet funny story about being a real 14-year-old and how difficult yet exciting growing up can be. This book does contain language and actions that could be inappropriate for readers younger than high school level. I would rate this book a 3 out of 5 stars, only because I didn’t really connect with any of the characters. Nonetheless, this book is certainly worth reading, and the ending is a complete shocker!
Editor's note from Anarda: I will add my two cents' worth. First, I need to make a disclaimer: I am not a teenage boy, nor have I ever been a teenage boy, so I am placing myself in the hands of the author with the hope that he will enlighten me about young men coming to terms with their increasingly complex inner world. That said, Andrew Smith did connect me with the misery and self-deprecation, ,joyfulness and hope of Ryan Dean--and yes, Ryan Dean's exploits made me laugh and cringe. I agree with this reviewer that the book is intended for a high school audience, but I also think a lot of male and female readers out there will give this book an enthusiastic thumb's up. This was one of my favorite books of 2013, and I would recommend that those who enjoyed this book might want to check out King Dork by Frank Portman (and you thought you were the only one who hated Catcher in the Rye!). If you really want to go on a strange ride or two, Andrew Smith's The Marbury Lens and Passenger (DIRE, DARK, DISTURBING HORRORS, completely surreal and nothing like Winger--but I found them ultimately rewarding) and A.S. King's Reality Boy.