Published by Simon & Schuster on 14 May 2013
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.
Thoughts: Let me start by saying I loved this book. It is one of those books that I will be pushing into as many hands as possible. It made me laugh, then broke my heart, and, in the end, it made me feel like I was better off for having read it. I was surprised that this was going to have a sequel, but I’m beyond excited to read it. Winger has become one of my all time favorites and was added to the special stack of books that I like to keep next to my bed at all times.
Ryan Dean, aka Winger, is a 14-year old junior. He’s stuck in Opportunity Hall, a dorm reserved for behavior problems, but plans to be on his best behavior so that he can get back to living with his two best friends and trying to prove to the girl of his dreams that he isn’t a little kid, even though he is 2 years younger than her. In some ways I think Opportunity Hall is the best thing that ever happened to Ryan Dean. I liked his friends, but in some ways they saw him a very specific way and he wouldn’t have been able to grow up if he hadn’t been forced into a new living situation.
A lot of the book explores that one thing we all have that sets us apart. In high school, this one thing is usually what puts us at odds with our peers. For Ryan Dean, everyone sees that he is younger than everyone else. Even though Ryan Dean loves his old friends and the girl-of-his-dreams, Annie, they always seemed to see him with that age difference. Once he gets to O-Hall, Ryan Dean is still aware of the age gap, but the people he is living with treat him with more equality. That is not to say they always treat him nicely, but I did think they treated him more like a person instead of an age. This is especially true of Joey, who is particularly perceptive to judgement because he is the only openly gay student at the school (also my favorite character).
The end had a moment that took me by surprise and broke my heart. As much as I love spoilers, I’m not going to write this one, even hidden, because I think it is more powerful to be surprised. It came out of nowhere, leaving me desperate for everything to be okay to the point that I almost started praying for fictional characters. Then, when I found out what happened, it broke my heart the same way it did Ryan Dean’s. That’s how those moments are. They come out of nowhere–real life has no foreshadowing–and alter your worldview. It no longer mattered who Ryan Dean was dating and whether he was having sex or not. My whole world was broken. I think it is a rare thing for a book to make you experience something like that along with the character.
Favorite moment: Ryan Dean’s mom thinks he has a girlfriend, so she sends him a huge box of condoms and a brochure on how to have sex for the first time. I had to put the book down, I was laughing so hard.
WTF moments: The thing at the end that took me by surprised and still makes me cry when I think about it.
Overall: Authentic, laugh-out-loud funny, and heart-breaking all at the same time.