Monday, 3 March 2014

Review || Winger by Andrew Smith

Winger by Andrew Smith ★★★★☆
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.

If you're not a teeny bit in love with this book after that cartoon I don't know what else to tell you.

Littered with adorable cartoons from the main character (courtesy of Sam Bosma) and the undeniably accurate toilet-humour narrative that comes with having a 14 year old protagonist, Winger is an experience from beginning to end.

Ryan Dean is so multifaceted it's hard to describe him. He's crude, crass and perverted. He's brilliant, nerdy and funny. Loyal. Immature. A great friend. A terrible friend. Confident, yet unsure. He's a well rounded human being. And his narrative is occasionally so laugh out loud funny I actually needed a moment to catch my breath. He draws graphs comparing how much brain power he's spending thinking certain thoughts alternating from 'oh god that girl is touching me' to 'I have to pee'. I'm serious.

Smith has capture the voice of a 14 year old boy with perfection. Ryan Dean's story is one about figuring out not only who you are, but who your friends are. It was a captivating ride.

My only complaint centres around the ending of the book. I'm going to hide a few spoilers here in case you want to know my thoughts (highlight to read).

I get that tragedy is abrupt. It was not so much the abruptness of Joey's death that bothered me. I thought that was done quite well. When I read the mini-chapter in which they find his body, I actually had to set the book down for a moment. It was one of those horrible moments where you knew what was coming but so desperately wanted for it to not be true.

That, I thought, was done well. But what I took issue with was how abruptly the rest of the book tapered off to a close. I would've liked to see more coping. Dealing with tragedy and grief. More details of Ryan Dean's self-imposed silence and of his support network. More of him coming together with Chas and Kevin to form a friendly bond. The rugby team at the funeral. More of the consequences and fallout from closing O-Hall. All that.

I get that the book was pushing 450 pages as it was, but I don't know. I think how you deal with that is just as important.

Part of me wonders if that will be dealt with in the apparent sequel that has been announced in the time since I picked up the book. But given that the synopsis says it'll deal with senior year, that doesn't seem too likely.

Regardless of my quibbles, this was a great book. Not a perfect one, but something fun and different to my usual fare. Definitely enjoyable and definitely recommended.