Winger by Andrew Smith
Simon & Schuster, 2013. ISBN: 9781442444928.
Winger is the most honest and raw book I have read in a while. Set in an elite boarding school, the novel takes the reader inside the mind of a teenage boy, (which is undoubtedly a scary place to be,) but does so with an honesty and vulnerability that is absolutely endearing.
Ryan Dean West is intelligent, young for his grade, part of the rugby team, and stuck in 'Opportunity Hall,' the residence of boys who are being punished for various school misdemeanours. He's also in love with his best friend Annie.
Winger is written as a running commentary of Ryan Dean's life; his thoughts, his insecurities, his fantasies and his battle to find his identity, manhood and self-respect in the chaotic and tumultuous time that is adolescence and high school.
The novel is written in very colloquial style, with copious run-on sentences, intermittent drawings and cartoons and language that makes us privy to Ryan Dean's innermost thoughts. It's an easy read, without being simplistic. As a character Ryan Dean (Winger) West is multi-faceted, honest and very well constructed. It is unlikely that there would be any young man who could not find some common ground with him.
Chapters are short, but powerful. I found the first quarter a bit slow, but it soon picked up pace, and by the end I couldn't put it down. The novel deals with love, identity, bullying, sexuality and relationships, and works to expose the honest truth that even the toughest and most popular people have their inner insecurities.
The plot is engaging and often surprising, and puts the reader through a full range of emotions from laughter, to grief, understanding to disbelief.
While I was disappointed with the frequency of coarse language and sexual/fantasy references, this may well be the type of book that could change a young man's life, offering him hope, guidance and the sense that he is not alone in his struggles. I would recommend this, in particular, for boys who are struggling with various aspects of life and also those who are struggling to engage with other novels.
Editor's note: Winger was on Publisher Weekly Best Books 2013 and YALSA Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults 2014