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.

 

Review- The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander

A couple of months ago, I was given a box of unreleased proofs from a library supplier to read and review before buying for our library system. I immediately picked up the book ‘ The Fourth Stall’. I loved the cover and think it will be really visually appealing to boys. In fact, the entire book would be appealing to boys– the storyline, characters, language and humour. The Fourth Stall is definitely a title I would recommend to reluctant pre-teen readers ages 9-12 years old.

So what’s it about?

Sixth graders Mac and Vince are business savvy best friends who run a successful business from their school’s east wing boy’s bathroom– fourth stall. For years, they have used their connections to help schoolmates get everything from loans to protection from bullies. They face their biggest challenge when third-grader Fred claims that he is being threatened by the legendary dropout and crime boss Staples. After hiring their bully clan and strategically planning their take down, Mac and Vince also find themselves unexpectedly affected by deeper issues like class.   

What I liked:

–          I loved the description and traits of the bully clan–each bully is known for a specific strength. For example, Snapper’s signature move ‘is a bite so hard it would snap a man clean in half if her mouth were big enough’. Rylander also includes a new form of bully that is becoming increasingly popular in our technology driven world—‘Ibully’. Ibully is a cyberbully who hacks e-mail and Facebook accounts.

–          Rylander’s writing: smart, witty. Multiple issues are thrown into the novel, but it always seems to work!

–          Rylander’s ability to make the reader emphathize with a bully even though you’ve detested the character throughout the novel. In the end, we find out why he was the way he was (and although it doesn’t excuse his behaviour, we can sort of understand why).

What I didn’t like:

–          The amount of violence in the book. Sometimes I had to remind myself that Mac is in the sixth grade. It’s like the Sopranos for the younger set, and I’m not sure the extent of the violence was necessary.

Here’s what others are saying:

“Here is an original – a story that really gets how guys are pals.  It’s also a story about sixth grade wiseguys that is funny, mysterious, and true to the heart of what really matters when you are in middle school.  Do yourself a favor.  Read it.  Now.”  – Jon Scieszka (National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and NYT Best-Selling author of THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS and THE STINKY CHEESE MAN AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID TALES)
Debut novelist Rylander mines a substantial amount of humor and heart from this combination hard-boiled crime novel and middle-grade character piece.”  – Publishers Weekly

Look for The Fourth Stall in February 2011!

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