In this episode of What The F*ck Happened...
Pine Mountain Academy is a school for the rich and the supposedly neglected where Ryan Dean West is a 14-year old junior. The story starts as he begins to serve his sentence (for stealing a teacher's phone) in Opportunity Hall, the school's dorm for the exceptionally delinquent. His day begins by getting dunked in one of the common toilets in O-Hall by two football bullies. Fun times. To make thing more interesting, he is also bunkmates with Chas Becker (Betch), his rugby teamate who fits the stereotypical dumb jock sketch which also includes wanting to kill him hating him.
Ryan Dean on the other hand fits the role of the smart, skinny, prepubescent kid who takes a lot of crap for being two years younger than everyone else. But it's the beginning of the school year and Ryan Dean is hell-bent on making some changes and improving his social stock value starting with his best friend Annie who he's been secretly in love with but still sees him as a little boy.
The story is pretty much several Days in the Life of Winger, where we get to meet his friends, share his thoughts, read about the crazy and embarrassing situations they get themselves into that will probably make Ryan Dean a legend in dinner conversations when he reaches a certain age. But for the here and now, he's 14.
"You look like a gay caveman," JP said.
"Well, that wasn't quite the effect I was going for."
"Dude. You have Pokemon underwear on."
That wasn't even the funniest bit about the Pokemon briefs.
Personally, that's like the age I would least like to hear about from the POV of a boy. And Winger pretty much justifies my prejudice. Because Ryan Dean's thoughts were comprised mostly of balls (other people's and his own), sex, pee and rugby. It was all pretty juvenile and awkward at first, then you realize you're witnessing how the primordial male brain works before it evolves irreversibly to this.
Once you manage to keep that in your perspective, it does make Ryan Dean as the narrator easier to take. Because he really is an amusing storyteller who's generous enough to share his thoughts and musings in comic strip form and sketches. He also has this habit of qualifying his emotions and thoughts through bar graphs, line charts, Venn diagrams and scales that I think will satisfy both Barney Stinson and Microsoft Excel fans alike.
Nurse Hickey is a hissing five out of five leaky air conditioning units on the Ryan Dean West Global Hotness Scale.
RD's moments with Annie was very interesting for me because I remember how big a deal a couple of years' age difference is at that point in anyone's life and it isn't something I often read about in YA books from the perspective of the younger, "loser" boy. It was honest and gave me the right kind of warm and fuzzy feels.
The secondary characters were likable and memorable, their shenanigans absurd (which is my favorite type of shenanigans) and for the first 389-pages you get taken for a Harold and Kumar-type of misadventure (minus the drugs) with a lot of laugh out loud moments that could easily distract the reader from the story it's trying to tell. You KNOW its going somewhere, there's a general subtext of shit waiting to hit the fan, but you don't know where it's coming from. And when you do realize where it's going to come from, you take a step back, look at the bigger picture and not make one sense of it.
Because when you get to THAT point, that point where Ryan Dean tells you it's just going to be words from then on and no more pictures and graphs, if you haven't been paying attention, you'd really end up pissed off.
Which pretty much approximated how I felt.
I was too entertained by Screaming Ned and the TSA kerfuffle that I had to read the final chapters five times and went further back to that fricking Venn Diagram (because seriously, what is UP with the Venn Diagrams YA?! #TFiOS) to make sense of what this book is trying to cut across.
I'm spoiler tagging my spoilery thoughts mostly because the discovery of what this book was about, I believe is half the fun.
Early in the book, Winger shows Annie a Venn Diagram, where the overlap is what makes everyone the same and the small crescent outside the overlap is what makes everyone different. This book tackles that crescent of labels and words and how one overcame his and the other fell victim to his own.
And here’s Ryan Dean West. Well, at least, it’s the one tiny part of Ryan Dean West that makes him stand out as being so different, the only thing that everyone notices about him. The number fourteen. And you think that makes me so different, like I’m a little kid. But the thing is, everyone has that little part that’s outside the overlap of everyone else. And a lot of people zero in on that one little thing they can’t get over. Like for Joey, ’cause he’s gay, I guess. Some people are better than others about not getting that outside-the-overlap part so noticed, but not me.
It was pretty abstractly presented and nothing gets into sharp focus until the very last few chapters in the end. How Ryan's struggle trying to break out of his label as the "little boy" runs parallel with that of another character until a certain point in the story where they diverge and contrast.
You know what the other half of the fun is? Coming into this blind. So I'm sorry I wrote this but hey, you've gotten this far in the review so what's another paragraph?
You could take it for the juvenile testosterone humor it so generously gives or the charming love story from the standpoint of the besotted loser but what you can't help doing after finishing this is think. Andrew Smith won't coddle you with a clean, straightforward answer what this is about. He'll take you in a fun, winding seemingly senseless ride, tell jokes, sing a few songs, fall in love... Then throw you into the water without a life vest. You'll wonder what the f*ck happened, you'll feel like you've been stabbed in the back. Then when you've calmed down enough, you will take the pieces that still makes sound logic, fashion it into a makeshift raft to get yourself to a sensible shore.
If you enjoy that kind of self-abuse, like I obviously do, then come back here once you're done with this and we'll deal with it together.
And then it's always that one word that makes you so different and puts you outside the overlap of everyone else; and that word is so fucking big and loud, it's the only thing anyone ever hears when your name is spoken.
And whenever that happens to us, all the other words that make us the same disappear in it's shadow.