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By Katherine Keller on September 12, 2015 3:11 PM | Permalink

Andrew Smith

Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2013. 439 pages.

Contemporary/Realistic Fiction
High School: 9-12
CML Juvenile Fiction: JuvFic Smith

Ryan Dean (and that's his whole first name) is a precocious and perpetually horny 14 year-old (who, oddly enough, never seems to "take matters into his own hand" or have any dreams with a "fantastic ending" if you catch my drift, despite all of his endless ruminations about how "hot" every woman he meets is). His smarts mean he has jumped two grade levels and is a junior, not a freshman. At the same time, his knack for pushing boundaries has landed him in an elite prep school for "incorrigible" or "difficult" youth. A stunt he pulled at the end of last year means he's now in O-Hall, the dormitory with the strictest rules. On top of all that he's rooming with Chas Becker, a senior who's a bully, and he's also desperately in love with Annie, a fellow junior. Ryan Dean is crushed (and then furious) when his friend JP asks her to the Halloween Dance, so he makes it his mission to show Annie that he's not some cute little kid ... around the same time that Megan, Chas's (smokin' hot) girlfriend, starts showing an interest in him. Over the course of a very bumpy six weeks, Ryan Dean loses friends, makes new ones, gets the girl, has several epic misadventures, stands up for what is right, and ... deals with an incredible and shocking loss.

Winger has been nominated for a Nevada Young Reader's Award for good reasons. Winger is a blast to read because it sidesteps so many cliches of "school drama." Ryan Dean and his comrades don't have drug or drinking problems. The adults in their lives are not cruel, arbitrary, or stupid. Ryan Dean is flawed in believable ways and is easy to relate to. And, while Winger is no Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders, readers will find themselves laughing out loud many times as Ryan Dean gets himself into messes, and gets himself out via his wits. The story's also fun because of the fact that Ryan Dean's not afraid to throw a haymaker. Illustrations and cartoons drawn by Ryan Dean are scattered throughout the story, and these are always a delight.

Winger is a great book for anybody who feels like a square peg in a round hole. Ryan Dean knows that the odds are stacked against him, but he never lets that stop him. He's never helpless, but has agency in even the worst situations:  he's unsinkable. He owns his differentness and makes it an asset. His strength of character is also what allows him to come to grips with tragedy and the fact that bad things sometimes happen to good people.

Bibliotherapy Topics:  Bullying, Grief-Loss, Independence/Self-Sufficiency, Navigating School Life, Relationships Romantic - Issues, Social Skills


Katherine Keller - CML Evening & Weekend Supervisor