Winger by Andrew Smith (Kellee’s Review)



Author: Andrew Smith
Published May 14th, 2013 by Simon & Schuster

Goodreads Summary: 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.

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.

My Review: Andrew Smith sure knows how to write a teenage boy’s voice. He gets inside of adolescent male’s mind, and puts it all on paper for us. (It probably has something to do with teaching high school.) Ryan Dean’s voice and his story are so authentic. This book will make you cringe, laugh out loud, shake your head, and cry.  I am also so impressed with all of the themes that are dealt with in this book without ever feeling over done. These themes include bullying, absent parents, peer pressure, identity, sexuality, prejudice, and friendship.  In addition, Smith builds his characters, setting, and plot seamlessly. You fall in love with all of the characters, main and secondary. Even the antagonist. The setting itself is a character. And finally the plot arc was perfectly done, and was so unpredictable all the way to the end.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: First and foremost, this book needs to read by teens. However that happens, it is the right thing. The easiest way would be to get it into libraries and classrooms. There are also parts of the book that could definitely be pulled out to be used in the classroom in may different ways. On that junps to mind right away is using Ryan Dean’s comics as mentor texts for writing comics to write narratives of everyday events. Ricki also has some great ideas for Winger in the classroom in her review.

Discussion Questions: What kind of social challenges does Ryan Dean have to overcome since he is 14 but a junior?; Were you able to predict the end of the book?; What are some traits about Ryan Dean that made him easy to connect to?; How does Opportunity Hall and the rest of the school become a character in Winger?

We Flagged: 

winger2(p. 21)

Read This If You Loved: Looking for Alaska by John Green, Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

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The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider



The Beginning of Everything
Author: Robyn Schneider
Published August 27, 2013 by Katerine Tegen

Goodreads Summary: Golden boy Ezra Faulkner believes everyone has a tragedy waiting for them—a single encounter after which everything that really matters will happen. His particular tragedy waited until he was primed to lose it all: in one spectacular night, a reckless driver shatters Ezra’s knee, his athletic career, and his social life.

No longer a front-runner for Homecoming King, Ezra finds himself at the table of misfits, where he encounters new girl Cassidy Thorpe. Cassidy is unlike anyone Ezra’s ever met, achingly effortless, fiercely intelligent, and determined to bring Ezra along on her endless adventures.

But as Ezra dives into his new studies, new friendships, and new love, he learns that some people, like books, are easy to misread. And now he must consider: if one’s singular tragedy has already hit and everything after it has mattered quite a bit, what happens when more misfortune strikes?

Robyn Schneider’s The Beginning of Everything is a lyrical, witty, and heart-wrenching novel about how difficult it is to play the part that people expect, and how new beginnings can stem from abrupt and tragic endings.

My Review: Another novel filled with smart high schoolers—that makes me so happy!! I hope this is a trend because I love seeing brainy characters in my book and not stereotypical ones. The Beginning of Everything is described as witty, and it is very much so. The sarcasm and wit just bleeds out of this book. I found myself laughing out loud at parts, and usually just because a character had the audacity to say something they shouldn’t have.

In The Beginning of Everything, I actually connected more with the secondary characters than the protagonist. They were so well established and had such unique voices while Ezra sounded like any good-0le boy; however, I will say that by making his voice less distinct allowed for him to grow even in his prose. As he found his new, true identity, his voice became to ring out more true. I am not sure if the author did this on purpose or not, but either way it worked!

Oh, and the final pages. Guys, they were so good! Although it felt a bit rushed to me, the lyrical writing got me in the end. Perfect.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Although this book’s main home is in teens’ hands from a classroom, school, or public library, there are definitely parts that can be pulled out to be used in a classroom.

Since the characters are intelligent, many of the conversations have allusions to literature (Mary Oliver, Shakespeare, Fitzgerald, Frost) or their topics are quite deep (connecting organic chemistry to life, panopticon, Banksy, German insults). Also, there are debate topics that would be so interesting to look into such as imperialism, capitalism, and the economy.

One fun activity that I would definitely pull out of this book is fake debates. When Ezra, Toby, Cassidy, etc. were at their debate tournament, they had fake debates where they had to choose a side of quite silly topics like “Should vampires be allowed to vote?” This would be a great activity to do in classes to work on persuasion and arguments. (However, be careful about actually reading aloud the scene this is in as they also make it a drinking game.)

Discussion Questions: Do you feel like we live in a society similar to the panopticon? [If you don’t know what this is, it is quite fascinating:]; Do you think Cassidy made the right choice in the end?; Ezra truly connects with The Great Gatsby because of all the changes his life is going through. What book to you connect with and why?

Flagged: “Her face was inches from mine. I could see the freckles that dusted her nose and the gold flecks in the disquieting blue of her eyes.” (p. 111)

“My admirable opponent argues that vampires do not deserve suffrage, as many great yet misinformed politicians have done before her while calling for the continued marginalization of women, or other minorities.” Cassidy began. “Yet vampires were, at some point human. At what point can a man’s voting rights be revoked, if he is proven to be of rational mind?” (p. 157)

Read This If You Loved: Life in Outer Space by Melissa Kiel, Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Paper Towns by John Green

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Life in Outer Space by Melissa Keil (Kellee’s Review)



Life in Outer Space
Author: Melissa Keil
Published August 1st, 2013 by Peachtree Publishers

Goodreads Summary: Sam is a geek movie-buff with a ragtag group of loser friends who have been taking abuse from the popular kids for years. But when the super-cool Camilla moves to town, she surprises everyone by choosing to spend time with Sam’s group. Suddenly they go from geek to chic, and find that not everything boils down to us and them. With their social lives in flux, Sam and Camilla spend more and more time together. They become the best of friends, and Sam finds that he’s happier and more comfortable in his own skin than ever before. But eventually Sam must admit to himself that he’s fallen in love. If he confesses his true feelings to Camilla, will everything change again?

My Review: Loved this book. A perfect combination of Spinelli’s Stargirl, a John Green book, and a rom-com. Loved the voice, quirks, characters, and plot. A sleeper title from 2013 that you should read.

A couple things I really loved about this book:

  • The characters are such good people. Although they evolve, they never were kids I wouldn’t want my son to hang out with.
  • A romance-y book from a boy’s point of view!
  • Camilla is so cool yet so uncool and just shows how the labels and cliques and such of high school are just so stupid. Oh, and that you cannot judge a book by its cover.
  • The writing, music, and movie references. Just a bit of geeky, but not too much.

Ricki’s Review: Can be viewed here.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I think first and foremost, this book needs to be in libraries so that kids (and adults!) can get their hands on it. In the classroom, it can definitely be used as for a mentor text. I think it is perfect for an example of character development and voice.  The characters in this book are so strong and there are lines and passages throughout that show the characters’ personality. There are also parts that deal with writing poetry/music and would be great passages to talk about writing with students.

Discussion Questions: How does Camilla change the dynamic at Sam’s school? And how did she change Sam and his friends?; (During) Why do you think Mike quit karate?; How does Melissa Keil use music and movies to help move the plot? Show character’s personalities?; How is Sam’s parents’ issues affecting him?;

We Flagged: “She is wearing a yellow dress that looks like it belongs to a 1950s housewife, and a pair of flat red boots. Her hair is longer than I’d imagine would be practical; it’s parted in the middle and hangs in brown waves almost to her waist. She peers around the room impassively. She doesn’t look terrified. She doesn’t look insanely overconfident, like Adrian that time in year seven when he performed a song as his book report for The Outsiders. Mike and I mark that event as ground zero for the downward social spiral of our group.” (p. 11)

Read This If You Loved: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli, Paper Towns by John Green, Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

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