Ryan Dean West is a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school for rich kids in the Pacific Northwest. 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 info-graphics 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.
After hearing a friend rave about this book for the past few weeks, I just had to see if it was that good. Although I had a few complaints, I’m happy to say that Winger is a rather charming coming of age story that I quite enjoyed reading.
One of Winger‘s strongest points is its incredibly compelling narrative voice. Ryan Dean West, a fourteen year old junior and rugby player, reminded me a lot of how my younger brother was at that age: “hot” girls and sex occupy the majority of his thoughts, he tosses the word “gay” around carelessly, and makes a lot of penis jokes. Once I got used to the awkwardness and juvenile nature of Ryan Dean’s thoughts, I realized just how much I liked his narration. His adventures were so absurd and entertaining, and I loved how his own comics and graphs were interspersed in the story to quantify his thoughts and emotions.
The secondary characters were memorable, even if some weren’t particularly likeable. One character in particular stood out to me: Joey, the captain of the rugby team and Ryan Dean’s best friend. He’s sweet, dependable, and consistently the voice of reason in Ryan Dean’s friend group. I also appreciated how he pointed out just how problematic Ryan Dean’s behaviour was, since I frequently wanted to shake Ryan Dean and tell him that his treatment of the other characters (especially the women!) was not appropriate.
My main issue with Winger, though, lies in its ending. The last 40 pages or so take an incredibly dark turn that is completely at odds with the rest of the story, despite the fact that it did receive a bit of foreshadowing. I understood the reason for its abruptness, however the twist wasn’t appropriately resolved, making it seem very emotionally manipulative. All of Ryan Dean’s character growth was shoved into that final portion of the story, and I’m not entirely certain that he changed all that much.
Overall, despite its faults, Winger was a very enjoyable read. If it weren’t for the ending, this would have received a 4-4.5 star rating.