||I’ve got 13 novels to read before various dates this month for book clubs, events and reviews so I won’t be making any personal selections for a while. Despite this, I’ve just spent a few days (hours snatched here and there) reading a book that was not on my immediate TBR pile. It isn’t a new proof that managed to divert my attention on arrival. It wasn’t even an author I knew and loved and therefore could not resist. It’s a book I bought a couple of years ago, purely based on the jacket, that has been sitting on my shelf ever since. Look, even now, when I could be making a start on that daunting stack, I’m writing this instead. I want to tell you about this book even though I’m late to the party and you probably already know about it. It’s Winger by Andrew Smith, and it’s one of the best YA books I’ve read in a long time.
Ryan Dean West is 14, he’s boarding at a posh school and he’s been moved to the dorm for bad boys, Opportunity Hall. Two years younger than the rest of the rugby team he’s a prime target for his team-mate’s attention for all the wrong reasons, but he’s the best runner there is; he’s the Winger. Ryan Dean might call himself a loser several times a day, but things aren’t so bad. He goes to class (he’s really smart), he draws (he’s really talented), he plays rugby, he runs. He makes new friends. He burns bridges. He’s hot for every girl he encounters but he’s in love with his best friend, Annie Altman. He’s catching the attention of the sexiest girl in school (and her meat-head boyfriend). He’s making sure teachers don’t forget his name. It’s school, it’s hard; it’s life. Honestly, reading Winger is mostly feeling like you’re living it too. Although this time you’re Ryan Dean so you’re an outrageous flirt and horny all the time, you are brave, crazy, cocky, self-assured/self-loathing, confident, queasy, nervous, stupid, volatile, conflicted, growing. The book could have gone on and on, it’d be cool to just keeping checking in on Ryan Dean, hanging out with him, but then there’s part four, which Iwon’t go into because I wasn’t expecting it and that’s how it’s meant to be. I already loved the book and then it became something different. This is smart writing, it’s bright and bold, genuinely funny, moving and important. How on earth did Smith do it? This is a young adult voice of Holden Caulfield significance and could connect with 14 year old boys in a way that is absolutely real. I’m a 29 year old woman so it’s certainly got wider appeal but I loved it because for all it’s vital reality it is also a joyous ride with a truly vivid character and it's just so well realised. I hope it gets read and loved and cherished for years to come. I’ll certainly be recommending it here at the shop.
I recently found out there’s going to be more when Ryan Dean West returns in Stand-Off later this year, which is great news. I’ll be reading more from Andrew Smith for sure, after I finish those 13 other novels of course, but I miss Winger already.
If you’re looking for another YA with a great boy character check out Meg Rosoff’s Just In Case and my other favourite boys’ school book, Skippy Dies by Paul Murray