Simon & Schuster
At Pine Mountain boarding school in Oregon, all the trouble teens – pretty much exclusively ready-for-a-fight boys on the rugby and football teams – live in Opportunity Hall, including 14-year-old junior Ryan Dean West, also known as Winger for his position on the rugby team. Winger deals with pretty typical teenage boy stuff – peer pressure, to which he always gives in; ladies and the horndog thoughts they evoke for him; getting friend-zoned by his BFF Annie; and fighting with his friends and teammates. When he alienates his two best friends, his new best friend is Joey, a gay senior and captain of the rugby team. Winger questions the way people treat Joey because he is gay. He even has some thoughts that he realizes border on homophobic and he quickly corrects his “messed up” way of thinking. The school year goes along with Winger experiencing romance, misadventures, the occasional hangover, and sometimes even school work. Everything for him comes to a screeching halt after the Halloween dance when life and its inevitable tragedies brings Winger’s antics to a pause. Winger likes to draw so the book is sprinkled through with his comics, most of them quite funny. He also has the habit of rating women’s attractiveness on these ridiculous made-up scales, like “five out of five steaming bowls of chowder on the Ryan Dean West In-Flight-Entertainment-Things-You-Don’t-Mind-Burning-Your-Tongue-On Heat Index” (pg 124 in the Kindle version). This may come across as misogynistic, but it is fitting with Winger’s teenage preoccupation with sex.
Warning: this book has almost no plot. There are several storylines goes on – will Winger get the girl(s)? Will he get out of O Hall? Can he repair his relationship with his friends? – but no real overarching problem or conflict that binds it all together. What saved me from writing this book off as a slice-of-life boarding school story was the ending, which got very serious very quickly. Winger, who narrates in the first person, alludes to something bad happening later on in the year, but the light tone of the entire book up until the last couple chapters makes the tragedy that much more of a surprise. But that’s how life is, right? We rarely see tragedy coming. I really felt like this book conveyed that sudden shock when terrible things happen, the feeling that you’ve been blindsided.
Andrew Smith was caught in a social media dust up last spring, criticizing his writing (or not) about female characters based on an interview with Vice. After reading Winger, the only Andrew Smith book I’ve read, I can see how people would take issue with the female characters and Winger’s thoughts about them. However, I found it fit with the character in this case and I never think that an author’s characters speak for the author’s personal beliefs or feelings. If you want to read about the controversy, read this article on Vice.
Winger has a sequel for Ryan Dean’s senior year called Stand Off.
Read alikes about boarding school
Bloomability by Sharon Creech
Looking for Alaska by John Green
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart