Cover image for Winger
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster BFYR, c2013.
Physical Description:
438 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.
Reading Level:
890 L Lexile
Added Author:
Two years younger than his classmates at a prestigious boarding school, fourteen-year-old Ryan Dean West grapples with living in the dorm for troublemakers, falling for his female best friend who thinks of him as just a kid, and playing wing on the Varsity rugby team with some of his frightening new dorm-mates.


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A teen at boarding school grapples with life, love, and rugby in a heartbreakingly funny novel.

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 infographics 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.

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

This brutally honest coming-of-age novel from Smith (Passenger) unfolds through the eyes of Ryan Dean West, a 14-year-old, rugby-playing junior at the exclusive Pine Mountain school. He's two years younger than his classmates, hopelessly in love with his best friend Annie, and stuck in Opportunity Hall, the residence reserved for the worst rule-breakers. As Ryan Dean struggles with football-team bullies, late-night escapades, academic pressures, and girl troubles, he also discovers his own strengths. Like puberty itself, this tale is alternately hilarious and painful, awkward and enlightening; Bosma's occasional comics add another layer of whimsy and emotion, representing Ryan Dean's own artistic bent. The characters and situations are profane and crass, reveling in talk of bodily functions and sexual innuendo, and the story is a cross between the films Lucas and Porky's, with all the charm and gross-out moments that dichotomy suggests. That's what makes the tragedy near the very end all the more shocking and sudden, changing the entire mood and impact of Ryan Dean's journey. The last-minute twist may leave readers confused, angry, and heartbroken, but this remains an excellent, challenging read. Ages 12-up. Agent: Laura Rennert, Andrew Brown Literary Agency. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Fourteen-year-old Ryan Dean West plays wing on the varsity rugby team and is two years younger than all the other juniors at Pine Mountain, "the best school around for the rich deviants of tomorrow." He sees himself as a loser whose life is hell; picture him as a semi-articulate teen Dante taking readers on a journey through the various circles of hellish boarding-school life. Ryan Dean's roommate, Chas Becker, is a "friendless jerk who navigated the seas of high school with his rudder fixed on a steady course of intimidation and cruelty." Though at first Ryan Dean seems like kind of a nice kid, he ends up holding his own in the company he keeps -- getting into fights, making out with Chas's girlfriend, peeing in people's drinks. In most stories of such journeys, the protagonist emerges having learned a lesson, but Ryan Dean pretty much realizes he likes the "magnificent shit" of boys' camaraderie: "You can hate a guy off the pitch who will save your fucking balls on the pitch when you play on the same side. There is nothing more glorious than that." Whether his increasingly macho swagger suggests unreliable narrator or true wild boy is left up to readers. Either way, jaded high schoolers may enjoy the messed-up vision of a school life even worse than their own. dean schneider (c) Copyright 2013. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* After he opened a vein in YA lit with The Marbury Lens (2010) and then went completely nutso in Passenger (2012), about the only thing that Smith could do to surprise would be a hornball boarding-school romantic romp. Surprise! Well, sort of. At 14, Ryan Dean West is a couple years younger (and scrawnier) than the rest of the juniors at Pine Mountain. He is a plucky kid despite a tendency to punctuate his every thought with I am such a loser who stars in the rugby team due to his speed and tenacity. The rail ties of his single-track mind, though, are his exploits (or lack thereof) with the opposite sex, particularly his best friend Annie, who thinks he is adorable. In short, Ryan Dean is a slightly pervy but likable teen. He rates the hotness of every female in sight but also drops surprising bombs of personal depth on a friend's homosexuality, the poisonous rivalries that can ruin friendships, and his own highly unstable mix of insecurity and evolving self-confidence. Much of the story seems preoccupied with the base-level joys and torments of being a teenager, content to float along with occasional bursts of levity from some nonessential but fun minicomics by Bosma. But at its heart, it is more in line with Dead Poets Society, and by the end this deceptively lightweight novel packs an unexpectedly ferocious punch.--Chipman, Ian Copyright 2010 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

OF all the young adult genres - the Dystopian Hellscape, the Human-Monster Romance, the Elite School-or-Camp for Nonmortals - the most popular right now may be the quietest: Aspiring John Green. GreenLit, as I like to call it, consists of realistic stories told by a funny, self-aware teenage narrator. These novels tend to have sharp dialogue, defective authority figures, occasional boozing, unrequited crushes and one or more heartbreaking twists. Green, the 35-year-old winner of the Michael L. Printz Award (the Newbery of young adult lit), may not have invented this genre (I seem to remember a guy named Salinger), but he's its reigning emperor. His brilliant novels "The Fault in Our Stars" and "Looking for Alaska" cannot be pried off the best-seller list. He has an online cult topping a million. He actually plays Carnegie Hall. Andrew Smith's latest book, "Winger," is firmly in GreenLit territory. And while Smith is not going to dethrone Green, this should secure him a seat at the round table. "Winger" is a bit more cartoonish than Green's novels - both figuratively and literally - but it's smart, poignant and entertaining. Our narrator is a 14-year-old named Ryan Dean West who attends the exclusive Pine Mountain boarding school. He plays wing for the rugby team - hence his nickname, Winger. He has a mildly rebellious streak - he's been banished to the naughty boys' dorm because he hacked a teacher's cellphone. He's also smart enough that he skipped two grades. And he's a loser. As he tells us repeatedly - 29 times, by my count (e.g., "I'm a loser." "I'm a skinny-ass loser"). Which is only appropriate, I suppose. The most successful young adult novels always feature losers, or at least outcasts. This is because the teenage years' built-in insecurity means every high schooler feels like a loser or outcast, even the seemingly well-adjusted ones. (Or perhaps that's just projecting on my part?) The trick is to make the loser appealing, and not just a pitiable drip. This "Winger" does. The plot charts the budding romance between our "142-pound sack of dehydrated failure" and his too-perfect best friend, a gorgeous track star named Annie. The hurdle? She's 16. Not exactly Harold and Maude. But in high school, two years is like a generation. Subplots deal with bullying (it opens with Ryan Dean being pushed headfirst into a toilet) and his complicated friendship with Joey, a stereotype-busting gay rugby teammate. Smith is best when writing about the exhilarating torture of a first crush. He captures the excitement even of chaste moments, as when Ryan Dean's fingers interlock with Annie's in the back of a car, "our hands resting on the soft fabric of her skirt where it draped over her thigh." The tension was such that I had to skip to the end to see if they hooked up. This is Andrew Smith's sixth young adult novel - he is perhaps best known for "Marbury Lens," a dark, strange tale about a teenager who is given magic glasses that allow him to peer into a parallel world of giant insects and clawed demons. But it's a bit of a departure. For one thing, it's Smith's funniest book by far. With "Winger," Smith has adopted a convincingly adolescent writing style. Our narrator has a weakness for one-word sentences like "Ugh" and "Crap." He'll use absurdly long hyphenated modifiers, as with this description of how the football players spoke to him: "in a very creepy Greek-chorus-in-a-tragedy-that-you-know-is-not-going-to-end-well-for-our-hero kind of way." There's also plenty of meta-commentary. "That was a really long sentence, wasn't it?" he writes at one point Not to mention a bunch of gross-out humor, including several bathroom scenes and a "catastrophic penis injury." And cartoons! Ryan Dean is a nascent artist, so we get drawings, Venn diagrams and charts, many of which deal with his libido. I should caution that the book is funny up to a point. In the last section, Smith jolts readers with a dark plot twist. I would have liked Smith to explore the tragedy's aftermath more - it gets only a few pages - but he still pulls it off. What could have been a manipulative ploy comes off as believable, and deepens the story. As Ryan Dean would say, this book is amusing and touching in a "Looking for Alaska" meets Rabelais meets "Friday Night Lights" kind of way. A.J. Jacobs is the author of several books, most recently "Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection."

School Library Journal Review

Gr 9 Up-Ryan Dean West is the smartest student in the junior class at Pine Mountain boarding school, a starter on the rugby team, and two years younger than the rest of his classmates. He is also hopelessly in love with his best friend, Annie, who sees him as just a little kid. When Ryan Dean moves into Opportunity Hall, the dorm for misbehaving students (owing to an illegal cell phone encounter the previous year), he finds himself at odds with his roommate, the meanest member of their rugby team. Mark Boyett does a wonderful job narrating, especially Ryan Dean's voice, which reveals his wild imagination, full-blown adolescent hormones, and self-deprecating humor. Other characters' voices are equally believable. Friend Seanny is rendered with a deadpan monotone, while Screaming Ned, an old man the boys offer a ride to, is cantankerous, confused, and done with a high-pitched, scratchy cackle. Ryan Dean's cartoons, doodles, and charts, which add such charm to the print version, are described so that the listener doesn't miss anything. The resulting audiobook is laugh-out-loud-funny at times and heartbreakingly serious at others. This is a terrific recording of an unforgettable book.-Julie Paladino, East Chapel Hill High School, Chapel Hill, NC (c) Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

A boarding school is the setting for life-changing experiences in this smart, wickedly funny work of realistic fiction from the author of The Marbury Lens (2010). Self-proclaimed loser Ryan Dean is a 14-year-old junior at Pine Mountain, where he plays wing for the tightknit rugby team. In a magnificently frenetic first-person narration that includes clever short comics, charts and diagrams, he relates the story of the first few months of the school term as he's forced to room with an intimidating senior on the restricted, euphemistic Opportunity Hall, due to transgressions from the previous year. He's completely head over heels for Annie, an older classmate who insists she can't be in love with him due to his age, and lives in fear of the "glacially unhot" teacher Mrs. Singer, who he's certain is a witch responsible for cursing him with a "catastrophic injury to [his] penis," among other ailments. He's also navigating letting go of some old friends and becoming closer to one of his teammates, Joey, who's gay. Smith deftly builds characters--readers will suddenly realize they've effortlessly fallen in love with them--and he laces meaning and poignantly real dialogue into uproariously funny scatological and hormonally charged humor, somehow creating a balance between the two that seems to intensify both extremes. Bawdily comic but ultimately devastating, this is unforgettable. (Fiction. 14 up)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.



Winger CHAPTER ONE NOTHING COULD POSSIBLY SUCK WORSE than being a junior in high school, alone at the top of your class, and fourteen years old all at the same time. So the only way I braced up for those agonizing first weeks of the semester, and made myself feel any better about my situation, was by telling myself that it had to be better than being a senior at fifteen. Didn't it? My name is Ryan Dean West. Ryan Dean is my first name. You don't usually think a single name can have a space and two capitals in it, but mine does. Not a dash, a space. And I don't really like talking about my middle name. I also never cuss, except in writing, and occasionally during silent prayer, so excuse me up front, because I can already tell I'm going to use the entire dictionary of cusswords when I tell the story of what happened to me and my friends during my eleventh-grade year at Pine Mountain. PM is a rich kids' school. But it's not only a prestigious rich kids' school; it's also for rich kids who get in too much trouble because they're alone and ignored while their parents are off being congressmen or investment bankers or professional athletes. And I know I wasn't actually out of control, but somehow Pine Mountain decided to move me into Opportunity Hall, the dorm where they stuck the really bad kids, after they caught me hacking a cell phone account so I could make undetected, untraceable free calls. They nearly kicked me out for that, but my grades saved me. I like school, anyway, which increases the loser quotient above and beyond what most other kids would calculate, simply based on the whole two-years-younger-than-my-classmates thing. The phone was a teacher's. I stole it, and my parents freaked out, but only for about fifteen minutes. That was all they had time for. But even in that short amount of time, I did count the phrase "You know better than that, Ryan Dean" forty-seven times. To be honest, I'm just estimating, because I didn't think to count until about halfway through the lecture. We're not allowed to have cell phones here, or iPods, or anything else that might distract us from "our program." And most of the kids at PM completely buy in to the discipline, but then again, most of them get to go home to those things every weekend. Like junkies who save their fixes for when there's no cops around. I can understand why things are so strict here, because it is the best school around for the rich deviants of tomorrow. As far as the phone thing went, I just wanted to call Annie, who was home for the weekend. I was lonely, and it was her birthday. I already knew that my O-Hall roommate was going to be Chas Becker, a senior who played second row on the school's rugby team. Chas was as big as a tree, and every bit as smart, too. I hated him, and it had nothing to do with the age-old, traditional rivalry between backs and forwards in rugby. Chas was a friendless jerk who navigated the seas of high school with his rudder fixed on a steady course of intimidation and cruelty. And even though I'd grown about four inches since the end of last year and liked to tell myself that I finally--finally!--didn't look like a prepubescent minnow stuck in a pond of hammerheads like Chas, I knew that my reformative dorm assignment with Chas Becker in the role of bunk-bed mate was probably nothing more than an "opportunity" to go home in a plastic bag. But I knew Chas from the team, even though I never talked to him at practice. I might have been smaller and younger than the other boys, but I was the fastest runner in the whole school for anything up to a hundred meters, so by the end of the season last year, as a thirteen-year-old sophomore, I was playing wing for the varsity first fifteen (that's first string in rugby talk). Besides wearing ties and uniforms, all students were required to play sports at PM. I kind of fell into rugby because running track was so boring, and rugby's a sport that even small guys can play--if you're fast enough and don't care about getting hit once in a while. So I figured I could always outrun Chas if he ever went over the edge and came after me. But even now, as I write this, I can still remember the feeling of sitting on the bottom bunk, there in our quiet room, just staring in dread at the door, waiting for my roommate to show up for first-semester check-in on that first Sunday morning in September. All I had to do was make it through the first semester of eleventh grade without getting into any more trouble, and I'd get a chance to file my appeal to move back into my room with Seanie and JP in the boys' dorm. But staying out of trouble, like not getting killed while living with Chas Becker, was going to be a full-time job, and I knew that before I even set eyes on him. Excerpted from Winger by Andrew Smith All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.