Winger by Andrew Smith is one of those books I wanted to read because it felt like everybody was reading it. “So funny,” everyone said. “Such a great look inside a teenage boy’s head!” everyone said. (Note: by “everyone” I mean “all the other librarians I follow on Twitter.”) So I picked it up mostly due to librarian peer pressure.
“Winger” is the nickname of the book’s protagonist and narrator, Ryan Dean West. (“My name is Ryan Dean West. Ryan Dean is my first name. You don’t usually think a single name can have a space and two capitals in it, but mine does. Not a dash, a space. And I don’t really like talking about my middle name.”) Winger attends Pine Mountain Academy, which is “not only a prestigious rich kids’ school; it’s also for rich kids who get in too much trouble because they’re alone and ignored while their parents are off being congressmen or investment bankers or professional athletes.” As for why Ryan Dean himself is at Pine Mountain? “I know you’re going to ask, so I might as well tell you: it was for breaking into and trying to drive a T train. I was twelve. Boys like trains.”
Ryan Dean is a wing on PM’s rugby team. “One of the the things about rugby […] everyone gets a nickname.” So Ryan Dean is known throughout the team and school as Winger.
Much of the book’s action takes place on the rugby field. I’ve never read or even seen a rugby game before, but I enjoyed the peek into the sporting world Winger provided. I think anyone who’s been a part of a club or team of some kind can relate to the camaraderie Winger feels with his teammates, even when they fight about something. (And the author Andrew Smith plays rugby, so rugby players will likely appreciate the authenticity.)
He’s a smart kid who skipped a few grades, so he’s 2 years younger than the other high school juniors. (He’s got a crush on his best friend Annie but believes she’d never want to date a younger man.) He’s a sharp, funny narrator, and he accompanies his biting commentary on boarding school life with cute cartoons, drawn by Sam Bosma.
I enjoyed all the humor of Winger but I was unprepared for the book’s ending! I don’t want to give spoilers, but at the same time I want to give a little hint, because when I heard about Winger all I ever heard about was the humor. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very funny, but the ending is dark and sad. It’s not exactly out of nowhere–the violence had been slowly escalating throughout the school year–but all the same, very shocking and sad. Readers be advised!
Reviewed by: Teen librarian Renata
Recommended for: Fans of funny-but-sad realistic fiction like John Green; rugby players; and anyone who’s ever wanted to peek inside a teenage boy’s head