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.
It seems like the community has, for the most part, overlooked this title, which is a very, very sad thing. Andrew Smith has done something truly amazing here with Winger and it’s a bit sad when you see how few people have read this book.
I originally only picked Winger up because of my beloved Andrew Smith, but I was a bit apprehensive because well, the last two Smith books I’ve read were dark, depressing, and violent and I really couldn’t see him write a contemporary book.
But the moment I started reading, I realised that I had made a huge mistake and that Winger was definitely as good, if not better, than the Marbury Lens series.
Winger follows the story of Ryan Dean West ‘Winger’ as he traverses high school as a fourteen year old junior. He recently landed himself in the Opportunity Hall of his boarding school, where they keep all the school’s worst cases, after stealing his teacher’s phone. And of course, he manages to get put in the room with his arch-enemy, Chas Becker.
Ryan Dean’s voice is one of those rare ones that are very unique. It was a voice that made it extremely hard to drop the book even for a few minutes, and to quote Cecil Baldwin, ‘and I fell in love instantly’. I knew from very early on that Winger was not going to be a book I’d forget anytime soon.
As a character, Ryan Dean West was easily one of the most relatable characters that I’ve ever ‘met’, yet also one of the most average characters out there. He wasn’t special, not really – not in the way that most YA characters are. Ryan Dean was a very normal character, and I think that contributed much to his appeal because much of popular YA has the main character special somehow, whether they be vampires or the next Katniss Everdeen.
Smith’s writing was absolutely superb. He manages to trap the essence of a young fourteen year old boy, with all its ups and downs, amazingly well. He takes you on an amazing ride that will make you laugh and fall deeper and deeper in love with the characters and the school and the book, but by the end, all the book’s hidden severity comes at you like a wrecking ball and you’re left gasping for air by the end.
Under all of Winger’s hilarity and romance is a very deep story however, I’m going to step around because the last thing I want to do is spoil the discovery for you.
One more aspect worth mentioning is the absolutely fantastic artwork. Sam Bosma’s art is just brilliant, oh my god, just look at it! The art adds another beautiful layer to the book.
In all, Winger is a book that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I recommend it to everyone!