Hilarious and Heartbreaking: Winger by Andrew Smith

Winger by Andrew Smith winger

Published: May 14th 2013 by Simon & Schuster

Source: ARC from publisher

Synopsis (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.

My thoughts: Winger by Andrew Smith made me laugh out loud and broke my heart.

Ryan Dean is an awkward 14-year-old boy who is smart enough to have skipped two grades. When he returns for his Junior year at a boarding school in the Pacific Northwest, he’ll be staying in the troublemakers dorm with limited privileges, and a year of hijinks and heartache ensue.

Andrew Smith has completely captured the voice of an adolescent boy. Even though Ryan Dean’s in love with his best friend Annie, he can’t help but notice how attractive every other woman he comes into contact with is. In fact, Ryan Dean can’t help but participated in clandestine make out sessions with his roommate’s hot girlfriend Megan, even though he knows he’ll get pummeled if Chas finds out, and even though he’d rather be with Annie.

Ryan Dean knows he’s a bit uncool and nerdy and awkward, but it only adds to his charm. Even though he gets in trouble and makes bad decisions, he’s at his core a good friend and good person. Though his internal monologue is littered with profanity, he tries to limit the use of cuss words in his speech. Though he’s not above tricking a guy into drinking his piss, he’ll defend his friends in a fight even if it means he gets beat up. At times, I cringed at his thoughts, but in other moments, I found myself smiling ear-to-ear at how endearing he was.

Though Ryan Dean is definitely heterosexual (he can’t stop thinking about girls) his best friend Joey is gay, and out. This plays an important role in the story, because while lots of people are accepting, some of his rugby teammates are not. Joey is not your stereotypical gay sidekick; he’s a fully formed character with whom readers will relate. While I still would like to see more of a range with regards to queer characters in YA lit, I was glad to have such a well-rendered gay character whose story arc is not about coming out.

The chapters are peppered with Ryan Dean’s hand drawn comics that are utterly adorable as well as charts and perhaps Ryan Dean’s favorite communication tool, the Venn diagram. I love books that feature illustrations, and they have high appeal for teens, too.

This is a leisurely paced and character-driven novel; while I was entertained throughout, I did find myself wondering what the main conflict was and what the “point” of the story would be. My only complaint about the novel would be that the climax comes too late and not enough time is spent on resolution. I went from laughing at the crude jokes about bodily functions and body parts, to crying when the realization of what had happened hit me.

Recommended for fans of:

Looking for Alaska by John Green (my review)

Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky (my review)

Second opinions:

Rebecca from Crunchings and Munchings: “Ryan Dean’s humor is always paired with desperate humiliation or neurotic dread, making every paragraph a complicated portrait of a fascinating character. I loved getting to know him and I even (embarrassingly) found myself thinking, at one point, “hot damn, I can’t wait to see what an amazing grown up Ryan Dean is going to be.”

Magan from Rather Be Reading: “Andrew Smith taps into the mind of Ryan Dean so well — he’s funny and a little perverted, but very self-aware and insecure, too. Shamefully, I was a bit nervous about reading from a 14-year-old boy’s perspective. I’m a girl who likes the older, more mature YA books. Never fear! His age didn’t turn out to be a problem for me at all. In fact, I sometimes had to remind myself he was so young.”


10 thoughts on “Hilarious and Heartbreaking: Winger by Andrew Smith

  1. I’m just really happy knowing this is out there being a contemp capturing the male voice–there really aren’t enough of those (though the ones you suggested are great examples). I’m not sure this one’s for me, but I’m filing it in my mental Rolodex for recommending to others.

      1. Oh, that’s so kind! Yeah, I can’t say I’m surprised that there are no anti-Wingers, but I’m glad to hear it.

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