Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 14, 2013
Buy It! amazon
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Summary from Goodreads: 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.
Filled with hand-drawn info-graphics and illustrations and told in a pitch-perfect voice, this realistic depiction of a teen’s experience strikes an exceptional balance of hilarious and heartbreaking.
First Thoughts: Wow! Just WOW!
I’m writing this review weeks after finishing the book - not something I normally like to do. I’ve let this review just sit here; I don’t feel like I can perfectly formulate what I want to say, and I want to do this book justice, because WOW does it deserve it! Winger left me uplifted and yet heartbroken, it made me laugh and then cry, it left a serious imprint on my soul. My review cannot possibly do this book justice, and I’m just going to have to be okay with that.
This book is just so honest and real (something you don’t always get, even in entertaining and well-written young adult fiction). Plus, it’s not pretty; everything doesn’t fit perfectly together, and it’s definitely not tied up in a pretty bow at the end. Hence, the reality of the story. Life isn’t perfect, life isn’t pretty, and everything doesn’t resolve nicely even though our studied plot diagram would have us believe so. Smith beautifully writes in unexpected turns, lost friendships, terrible but understandable decisions and frustrating (for the reader) conclusions. Again, real life.
As for the ending, it’s heartbreaking. Smith, through his narrator - Ryan Dean, had me literally laughing out loud for the first 90% of the book (I got some weird looks from my husband and dog). Then all of a sudden...BAM! Heart officially broken. To be honest, this really upset me at first. I was so angry; why couldn’t it end tied up in a nice pretty bow? I stewed on it for days. Even though I LOVED the book and immediately recommended it to every single student, my broken heart wouldn’t mend. Then, a few days later, I realized how necessary the ending is to Smith’s story. Would it have been a wonderful book without the tear-shedding moment at the end? Absolutely! Would it have been a powerful book with a lasting, oh-so-important message for readers? No, it wouldn’t. I get it, I appreciate it, and honestly, it makes me love the book even more (although, admittedly, not at first).
As for that laugh-out-loud narrator, Ryan Dean? Add him to my list of all-time favorite fictional characters! I LOVE Ryan Dean. He’s funny yet sensitive. He’s loveable yet infuriating (I mean seriously, stick to Annie and Annie alone!). And, holy cow is he all boy; I think I learned more about the fourteen year-old “boy brain” than I ever needed to know! He dreams about girls (a lot) but is afraid to even kiss the girl he likes. He draws sometimes inappropriate sketches and cartoons on his homework and yet he is completely fine passing them to friends (even when they are the subjects of the cartoons). He is a narrator I won’t soon forget and one I loved reading and rooting for.
Although I could go on-and-on about my love for this book (while still not doing it justice), just two small side notes. One: I liked the sports aspect of the rugby team; many of the guys don’t like each other as people, but they will stand up for and defend each other until the end of time. Two: if Ryan Dean is my favorite character, Joey is an extremely close second; every crazy boy, like Ryan Dean, needs a voice of reason, like Joey, for a best friend.
Final Thoughts: It’s just a special book. Simple as that. Special.
Who Should Read It? Everyone! I enjoyed this book so much, and I really truly think everyone else will too. More specifically though, I plan to get this book into as many boys’ hands as possible. It’s a book that speaks to everyone, but I so often struggle to find the perfect boy narrator- this is it.