Winger by Andrew Smith

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.

 

winger

Self -described ‘skinny-ass loser’, Ryan Dean West has one of the most real voices I’ve came across in YA fiction.  The text can be raunchy and ‘perverted’, but always raw as Ryan Dean narrates his coming of age experience in boarding school, including  important firsts and serious heartbreak.   His illustrations and graphs (my favourite being ‘things that make Ryan Dean West Stupid, pg. 145) added visual interest throughout this thick book.  Even though it is quite lengthy and intimidating for reluctant readers, the story and characters will immediately hook the reader to become a quick and memorable read.

Readers will be laughing their way through the majority of this book. I only expected heartache after reading the back cover quotes describing it as “ …powerful, sweet and heart wrenching.” About half way through, I predicted the ending, but hoped I wasn’t right.  I connected with the characters and felt like I knew them, so I was tearing up in the last couple of heavy pages.

For the most part, I like the graphic cover photo.  It captures the raw, honesty of the book. My only complaint is that ‘Winger’ is 14 years old, but the model looks mid-20s.  However, the final cover was likely out of Smith’s control, so I won’t hold it against him.  Pick up this awkward, cringe worthy, hilarious, honest, sad book today.  You won’t regret it.

 

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her?
shadow

After putting down three YA titles in a row, In the Shadows of Blackbirds rescued me from my reading slump! The cover, beautiful writing, and haunting photographs immediately drew me in and captured my interest. This historical fiction novel is set in 1918 during the Spanish Influenza and narrated by sixteen year old, Mary Shelley Black. Named after Frankenstein’s author, Mary Shelley is one brave, headstrong heroine- not even war or Death himself can stop her.

Throughout the novel, it is clear that Winters had done a fair amount of research into the time period.  The setting is described in detail and events historically accurate. Gauze masks, public health warnings, visible coffins and death in the streets are not overlooked. Not only was this an enjoyable read, but also an educational one.  I didn’t realize the extent of confusion and panic the flu created, and the many uses of onions! The inclusion of black and white pictures sprinkled throughout work as a dreary visual reminder of the damaging effects of war.  I now can understand the desperation of mourners seeking comfort from spirit photographers and séances.

The plot revolves around the haunting mystery of what happened to Mary Shelley’s ‘sweetheart’ Stephen.  Winters had me guessing along with Shelley, and I was surprised by the violent and brutal ending.  Despite this, a great cast of characters, historical details, romance , mystery and tragedy all amount to one fantastic recommended read!

If you liked the mystery and suspense of  In the Shadow of Blackbirds, check out The Diviners by Libba Bray.

Where She Went by Gayle Forman (If I Stay #2)

It’s been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard’s rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia’s home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future-and each other.

Told from Adam’s point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I StayWhere She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

where she went

I rarely read sequels.  However, having just finished If I Stay, I knew I had to pick up the next book, Where She Went.  In book one, Mia narrates the events leading up and following the tragic car accident that killed her family. Fast forward three years later for book 2 and now Mia’s boyfriend, Adam shares his story. It is a sad, raw and powerful narrative that will pull on reader’s heartstrings.  Adam is deeply affected and confused following his separation/breakup with Mia. I thought this was refreshing to see, as often it is the female character that is shown destroyed by a breakup.  Like the previous novel, memories and flashbacks of their relationship are again provided throughout.

Emotionally connecting with Adam came easy.  Like Adam, I felt anger toward Mia for how she ended things. When the truth is told, I was confused.  I’ve never experienced loss like Mia, so I couldn’t completely understand her reasoning. I believe that if I were in her shoes, I would have never pushed Adam away. I would have accepted all the love and support, rather than trying to erase him from her life.  However, I enjoyed the conclusion to their story and was left with feeling of hope. Pick up this realistic teen fiction series for a touching and beautiful read.

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