Narrator: Mark Boyett
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2013-05-14
Genres: Coming of Age, Contemporary, LGBTQ, Literary, Love & Romance, Young Adult
Reading Challenges: 2013 80 Book Challenge
Source: Purchased from Audible.com, Purchased from Barnes and Noble
Ryan Dean West is a student at a the fancy Pine Mountain boarding school, living in the dorm for kids who get in trouble. He seems to find himself in a lot of fights. Ryan Dean is really smart and really...fourteen. As fourteen-year-old junior, he is smaller than his classmates and the girls don't take him seriously. He's got his eye on one girl in particular: his best friend, Annie. But she's older, and Ryan Dean knows he doesn't stand a chance. Basically, Ryan Dean spends a lot of time thinking about girls' bodies, punching people, playing rugby, and trying to stay out of trouble.
Winger is a coming-of-age tale about the power of words, with a punch-in-the-gut ending that will make Ryan Dean West's story stick with readers long after the final page.
Well. After finishing the audiobook, I realized that Winger has pictures. Like, Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – style drawings. I’ve ordered a hardcover copy of the book because I felt it was worth owning, but I have to make it clear that this review will not be able to comment on the visuals of the story.
And what a story it is. Ryan Dean West is not always likable and I really don’t identify with him personally, but his voice was so authentic. Teenage boys are not really all that likable sometimes. They make really stupid decisions, fight each other, and have really inappropriate thoughts about girls. To be fair, I think all teenagers do those things. I actually liked reading Ryan Dean’s constant objectification of the girls around him, because it felt real. More than that, I felt like he grew and learned as the story went on. Yes, he has thoughts and urges, but he also demonstrated how to deal with those in a socially responsible way. Without being preachy. That kind of writing takes skill.
Andrew Smith truly has some writing skills, to be sure. He packs humor, angst, romance, and sadness into this novel. He’s got a message for young adults, and the package in which he’s delivering that message is quite appealing. My favorite character in the novel was Joey, Ryan Dean’s gay friend. Joey is a cool kid, and Ryan Dean never makes Joey’s sexuality a reflection of his own. Those of you who have read the book will recognize that there is infinitely more I could say on the topic of their friendship, but I will refrain from giving any spoilers to what happens in the story.
Notes on the Audio
The audio was quite good. Mark Boyett is very convincing as Ryan Dean, with a little smidge of smugness and angst behind every word. I did get a teensy bit tired of the way he said Ryan Dean, because his Dean sounded almost like he was sneering, but that’s my only real complaint. Well, that and the fact that the audiobook lacks the pictures. I really want to see the pictures! I might suggest that audiobook fans go ahead and listen to the audio, but check out the print book from the library (or just flip through it at the book store) to see the doodles.
Final Grade: B
One of the reasons I picked up Winger is because it’s been getting some Printz buzz. Predicting the Printz is always difficult, but this book does seem to have some of the Printz-worthy qualities we’re seen in past winners: strong theme, authentic voice, quality writing, etc. Will it win? We’ll see. Until then, it’s definitely a worthwhile read. I gave it a B because I found myself asking, “where is this story going?” around page 200. But by page 411 (a little late in the game, if you ask me) it all made sense. This would be a good buy for ages 13 and up, just be aware of (pretty intense) violence and sexual themes.
Which books do you think should be on the Printz shortlist this year?