The Dragon Whistler

The Dragon Whistler
Now available in paperback.


WINGER by Andrew Smith

I have a problem with this book. It’s a good problem, at least, from the author’s point-of-view, because this problem had me thinking about his book for quite some time.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to post my thoughts about WINGER (Simon and Schuster for Young Readers, 2013) by Andrew Smith for a few weeks now. I don’t want to deal in spoilers, and to fully explain my problem with the book would involve a rather spoilery one.

So, I've decided to avoid as much as possible. Even though I'm aching to rant. But, this blog is about the joy I get from sharing books I’ve read (or listened to), ones I’ve connected with and think should be enjoyed by as many readers as possible. It’s the cyber equivalent of me gushing with a friend or co-worker (something I do quite frequently, just ask them). You might say I’m a book pusher, and I’ll gladly admit it.

So when I love a book all the way through the way I did WINGER and am then thrown a curveball at the end (which is as much as I’ll say about “my problem”), it sticks with me.

The AUDIBLE audiobook, brilliantly narrated by Mark Boyette, was my introduction to Andrew Smith, and a brief Twitter search reveals his books tend toward neck-wrenching twists so maybe this isn't so unusual. I'll be more prepared next time. 

A few chapters in, I was hooked. WINGER is the nickname of Ryan Dean West, dubbed so by his friends at Pine Mountain private school. It has to do with the position he plays on the rugby team. Ryan Dean is one of those kids who skipped a couple of grades, so he’s 14 going on 15, but in his junior year of high school. Last year, this was a problem. This year, he's determined not to let his age be an issue. 

His best friend Annie, an older girl he’s seriously nuts about, seems like she just might see him as more than a kid. He’s holding his own against the tough bullies he’s forced to room with in “O Hall”, where he ended up this year due to previous behavior problems. And his stardom on the rugby team has ratcheted up as well. We follow RDW through the autumn of his junior year, from his experiences with the O Hall crowd, his first experience getting drunk, choosing girls over his friends, all peppered with sarcasm and commentary from his one-track mind. Truth is, he's kind of a perv, and in his own words “a total loser,” something proclaims copiously. 

The thing is, RDW is not a loser, not at all. You can’t help but love him. His story reminded me of a PG-13 rated DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, while sometimes edging into R territory. He seriously is obsessed with sex, rating the hotness of every female he encounters, from his classmates to his elderly dorm-master, using imaginatively hilarious measurements. But RDW also understands life and those around him living it, including one of his good friends who happens to be gay. He understands it a lot more than he allows himself to admit. Sure, he’s a trainwreck of self doubt and bravado, with hormone-fueled emotions pegging the needle at every turn, but he cares about people and hates injustice and disloyalty.

Even during his dream weekend trip home with Annie to visit her parents on Seattle’s Bainbridge Island — a gloriously depicted passage that made me want to move there like RIGHT NOW — finds Ryan Dean fumbling with his emotional stability and the confusions every teenage boys faces at some point.

So here’s my spoiler-ish warning. Don’t be thinking this is just a typical high school book about a horny boy just trying to find his way along the path to manhood. It is that, but in the end, Smith brings it all down to a gut-punch that while I suspected was coming, nevertheless knocked the wind out of me. Just like real life, I guess.

Despite my protests and despair at the ending, there is no doubt Andrew Smith is an author I want permanently on my TBR list – and since his latest GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE is now out, I’ll be heading over to my Kindle bookstore as soon as I hit publish on this post.

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