Challenging Views of the Teenage Boy

Returning home from ALAN this past week, I started Adam Smith’s book Winger; I finished it on the way home from our family Thanksgiving excursion to my mom’s place in Idaho. I should have read the book last year when I landed a copy at the workshop, but I’m glad I finally read it. Winger is the story of Ryan Dean West, a 14-year-old at a rich boarding school who plays on the varsity rugby team and finds himself thrust into a world of older (16- and 17-year-old) students. He has to make some tricky decisions and navigate some complex situations as he’s forced to live in O-Hall with other students who are on their “last chance” at the school. Things move along at a nice pace: Ryan Dean makes mistakes (many of which are not hard for the reader to see coming but which Ryan Dean himself can’t seem to stop from happening) and he learns a lot from his experiences (about friends and the nature of friendship mostly). The ending’s a bit of a gut-wrencher, as things go off the rails in a surprisingly sad way–I had the distinct feeling of the carpet being pulled out from under me. I’m not complaining, just expressing surprise at the direction things took at the end of the book.

When we talk about young adult literature, we often idealize the writer who is able to capture a convincing teen voice, and there’s no doubt that Adam Smith has done that in this book with Ryan Dean. I enjoyed seeing the world of Pine Mountain, the boarding school he attends, through Ryan Dean’s eyes, and many times I found his thoughts and feeling echoing my own as I navigated that treacherous time of age fourteen. However, about three-quarters of the way through the book, I started to feel weary of two aspects of West’s character: his near-constant preoccupation with sex and his tendency to make choices he knew would be wrong or hurtful to someone else–and these choices often had to do with sex (in this case, mostly making out and kissing–there’s nothing more serious in this book).

Read more