Thursday, March 13, 2014

Winger (Andrew Smith)

About a month ago, I read a novel called Grasshopper Jungle that sort of exploded inside me and left me a pile of embers and ashes. As soon as I finished it, I ordered the author's book from last year, Winger. Of course, I didn't want to overload myself, so I gave the books some space. Fortunately(?), this book also left me feeling like a used stick of dynamite.

Winger is about Ryan Dean West, who is fourteen years old and a junior at a private academy. He plays on the school's rugby team and has been moved to the living hall for delinquent students because he hacked someone's cell phone. The book opens on the beginning of the school year; Ryan Dean (both of which are his first name) has resolved to make this the year his peers finally see him as a person as grown-up as they are. He's in love with his best friend Annie, and is determined to get her to fall in love with him, too.

There are, obviously, obstacles. That hall for delinquents has some serious restrictions about having visitors and bedtimes, and it doesn't help that one of the two guardians of the hall is probably a witch cursing Ryan Dean with bad luck. His senior roommate's wickedly beautiful girlfriend also might have a thing for him. And he's caught in a fight with one of his (former?) best friends. Junior year is not the magic dream he hoped.

Of course, Smith's book is funny. That's one of his talents, to write about things full of really difficult emotion but to make them hilarious. There are charts and comics scattered throughout the book, humorous explanations of Ryan Dean's mental distractions (hint: girls) or illustrated conversations that he hopes would lead to...other things (hint: also involving girls).

Ryan Dean is so girl-obsessed, in fact, that it's annoying. He finds nearly every female in existence attractive, inventing ridiculous hotness scales to rate them (and they always manage to score five out of five). He's in love with Annie, but he can't stop thinking about how hot all girls are. But he quickly wins the reader over because you can feel how real his exploding desires are--he is struggling like any actual person has. Having been a fourteen-year-old boy and having known a good many of them, it's definitely true that we're annoying. Smith knows how to capture them, but knows how to make Ryan Dean endearing, too, which is a great save on his part.

The most curious part about Winger, I would say, is its ending. I'll admit that as I read the book, I could tell I liked it but did not love it. It was lacking the sparkle of Grasshopper Jungle, I thought, but it was a good time anyway. And then something happens at the end, something I don't want to hint at or spoil in the slightest. When I read it, it felt like someone was squeezing my heart and pouring molten lead into my stomach. Rarely have I ever felt so devastated by a book or even by my real life. I actually sat quietly in shock for about five minutes before I desperately began to seek out human contact because I just felt so empty and destroyed.

Smith was so careful, so delicate in the way he set up this book, because the event and my feelings about it really surprised me. I didn't think this novel would take me to the place it did, but wow. If you're confused by all the things I've just said, let me sum it up: Winger is hilarious until it is devastating, and it is so well-done that you ought not waste another second. Read this book.

My rating: 5/5
Winger on Goodreads
See what I've been reading lately!

No comments:

Post a Comment