Summary: Ryan Dean West is a fourteen year old junior at Pine Mountain boarding school in the Pacific Northwest. Referred to as “Winger” by his rugby teammates for the position he plays on the team, Ryan must spend his junior year in Opportunity Hall, the dormitory for troublemakers—and his roommate is the biggest bully at the school. Ryan is determined to make this year different from his previous years. He has decided that he will not tolerate being picked on for being smaller than his teammates, and he struggles with just how much to let on to his best friend that he is madly in love with her. Winger surprises himself by making new friends, losing some old friends, and finding his courage in the romantic arena. His sense of humor and precocious intelligence help him navigate the perils of teen life at Pine Mountain, but nothing prepares him for the shock of the devastating event that ends the novel.
Review: Winger is, for the most part, a darkly funny and honest portrayal of the mind of a fourteen year old male. Ryan Dean, like most teens, is mainly preoccupied with the opposite sex and performing well in his specific area of interest—the sport of rugby. The novel reminds the reader that even the most intelligent of teenagers will take action based on emotions rather than logical thought. Andrew Smith is obviously a rugby fan, but, unfortunately, does nothing to destroy the stereotype of ruggers as empty-headed Neanderthals who live to crush each other’s skulls. (Same for football players.) This book received starred reviews from both Booklist and Kirkus, and, no doubt, Ryan Dean’s first person narrative will have readers laughing out loud. However, the abrupt change in tone in the last few pages–in which the plot turns on the act of two relatively minor, tangential characters–may leave readers feeling deflated, bewildered, and wondering what the point of the story is, after all. Intended for readers 9th – 12th grade.
Availability: This book is available from the Lake Bluff Library’s Teen Fiction collection.
Reviewed by: Regina