Author: Andrew Smith
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: May 14th, 2013
It’s an urban legend than men think about sex every seven seconds, but you wouldn’t know it from being in the head of Ryan Dean West, known to his rugby teammates as Winger. Ryan Dean’s year is off to a bad start. If it wasn’t hard enough being a 14 year old junior he’s landed himself in O Hall; the dorm where his fancy private school locks up the trouble makers. He’s madly in love with his best friend Annie, but that doesn’t stop him from perving on nearly every other female he comes in contact with. Things are changing fast for Ryan Dean, though, and if he can change with them and grow up a little he might just be able to handle all this year has in store for him: both the wonderful and the horrible.
The majority of Winger is laugh out loud funny, though not without moments that will make you wince and break your heart. The text is supplemented by clever comics and graphs including “Ryan Dean West Loser Score Tally” and “Things Ryan Dean West is Afraid Of”. Ryan Dean’s voice is so strong it pulls you completely into his world. Only at the age of 14 can such a smart person be such a dumbass a lot of the time, and Smith does an amazing job of capturing the see-saw nature of Ryan Dean’s maturity. For example, though Ryan Dean befriends a gay classmate he quite often has to remind himself to ignore how he’s been socialized to think about people who are gay.
Despite a large cast of secondary characters each is as distinct and complex as their role allows. Though we only have teases of their backstory Annie and Joey are especially rich characters who feel like real teens with authentic motivations. Seanie is that one kid in every school that is just slimy and smart enough to creep you out. The only cliche comes in the form of the angry and homophobic football player, who is of course in the closet himself.
Though Winger is the very definition of a character driven novel in this case Ryan Dean’s development does not mean a lack of action plot wise. The start of Ryan Dean’s junior year is a whirlwind of rugby games, fist fights, late night shenanigans, quasi-romantic escapades, and most importantly shifting loyalties.
The only thing that might keep Winger from being the total package is the pacing. The entire story takes place between the start of the school year and Halloween. Ryan Dean changes so much in a short period of time it’s not hard to believe that when the worst happens, at the very end of the book, he nearly shuts down from emotional overload. His entire world view has just been changed in just two months.
This one may depend on some booktalking and reader’s advisory to get it moving, but I suspect it will gain some buzz once it’s in the hands of readers. The cover is suitable for the “very important life lesson” side of Winger, but will not attract readers who will enjoy the “teen sex comedy” aspects of the book. Winger is a great choice for fans of Brent Crawford’s Carter series, and the cartoons and unexpected depth make it a good match for readers of Stephen Emond’s Happyface and Winter Town as well.
*Digital ARC provided by publisher