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: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she’s a terrible singer. Instead she’s the set designer for the stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen, and when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!

Release date: September 2012

What a quick, fun read about middle school romance. It brought me back to my middle school days, including the awkward arms-length dances (p.105)!  I could definitely relate to the main character’s crush crazy ways, and over-analyzing every detail of the relationship.

Same sex crushes were also explored in the book; including an illustration of two boys kissing.    Throughout, the controversial topic was presented without any judgement and never made out to be more than it was. With the popularity of shows like Glee, I think younger people are increasingly becoming more comfortable and accepting of homosexuality. Therefore, I’m glad that Telgemeier included it in the book, while at the same time, making the text appropriate for the targeted reader age group.

As a graphic novel, the drawings rocked. Based on a play production, it was fitting that the story was divided into acts and even included an intermission.   I appreciated that Telgemeier included a variety of different body types and cultures throughout the book.  I also loved Callie’s facial expressions, as it was obvious when she was frustrated, happy, annoyed, disgusted, etc.

Overall, I find graphic novels are often targeted at boys.  So, I’m happy I’ve learned of another graphic novel that would appeal to young girls and their crush crazy ways. At the same time, I wouldn’t hesitate to offer this one to someone questioning their sexual identity either.

Notes from the Blender by Brendan Halpin & Trish Cook

Summary from Goodreads-

Declan loves death metal–particularly from Finland. And video games–violent ones. And internet porn–any kind, really. He goes to school with Neilly Foster and spends most of his classroom time wondering what it might be like to know her, to talk to her, maybe even to graze against her sweater in the hallway. Neilly is an accomplished gymnast, naturally beautiful, and a constant presence at all the best parties (to hich Declan is never invited). She’s the queen of cool, the princess of poker face, and her rule is uncontested– or it was until today, when she’s dumped by her boyfriend, betrayed by her former BFF Lulu, and then informed she’s getting a new brother–of the freaky fellow classmate variety. Declan’s dad is marrying Neilly’s mom. Soon. Which means they’ll be moving in together.
 
Just as the title suggests, Notes from a Blender has a ton of elements
mixed into one contemporary story about two angry and confused teenagers learning the meaning of family. Mix up a little bit of heartbreak, a touch of grief, two tablespoons of divorce, one cup of homosexuality, with a pinch of bullying and you get one touching, relatable, humorous story.
 
For me, the best thing about the book was the male/female author
collaboration of Halpin/Cook. Readers are clearly able to tell the difference between the two distinguished voices. I loved the alternating points of view, changing from chapter to chapter that show each side of simultaneous events happening throughout the story.
 
Having both female/male points of view will appeal to both female and male readers. Males will be able to relate to the awkward and hormonal Declan. Although Declan is painfully honest about his inner feelings, I really didn’t care to hear about his frequent boners, masturbation, love of porn and sexual thoughts. Too much information! Girls will relate to the beautiful, popular Neilly. Although she is sometimes shallow and self-centered, she falls for the wrong guy and is betrayed by her best friend. For all the unexpected surprises thrown at her, she continually demonstrates how strong and loyal she is.
 
Declan and Neilly together are an interesting duo. Despite their differences, they quickly take to each other, becoming friends and in
turn, help each other grow and change. While this is all nice and great, I would expect a blended family to experience a little more difficulty. Yes, both kids had anger toward their parents, but I would expect a little hostility toward their new step-siblings as well. There was none in this case, and that’s why I’m not so sure this family blending is realistic.
 
Another aspect I found unrealistic, was that almost every character
expresses their disgust with anyone who drinks. Since Declan’s mom was killed by a drunk driver, I can understand why he disagrees with drinking, but why is Neilly so against the idea? For trying to be edgy and in-the-know with teens, you would think that the authors wouldn’t try to be overly preachy about not drinking. I felt the subject was pushed too hard.

Overall, a solid 3.5/5.

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