Review: Winger

Winger
Winger by Andrew Smith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Excellent look into the mind of an adolescent boy in all his sexually charged, self-doubting glory. Ryan Dean is endearing and aggravating at the same time. The Annie plot-line is predictable but sprinkled with good banter. The conflict involving Joey builds subtly for the second half of the book while Smith does some superb distraction with JP. West’s eventual self-actualization is a bit far-fetched for a 14 year-old but the fallout from the climax hits home. Learned a bit about rugby and how little guys and girls really differ emotionally. Can’t wait to get my hands on Standoff.

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Flashback Friday: RAINBOW BOYS by Alex Sanchez

TITLE: Rainbow Boys

AUTHOR: Alex Sanchez

PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

LENGTH: 272 pages

ORIGINAL PUBLISH DATE: May 1, 2003

SUMMARY: (via amazon.com)

Jason Carrillo is a jock with a steady girlfriend, but he can’t stop dreaming about sex…with other guys. Kyle Meeks doesn’t look gay, but he is. And he hopes he never has to tell anyone — especially his parents. Nelson Glassman is “out” to the entire world, but he can’t tell the boy he loves that he wants to be more than just friends.Three teenage boys, coming of age and out of the closet. In a revealing debut novel that percolates with passion and wit, Alex Sanchez follows these very different high-school seniors as their struggles with sexuality and intolerance draw them into a triangle of love, betrayal, and ultimately, friendship.

REVIEW: Sanchez’s first book in this series packs a wallop. Besides the fact that the entire book is based on Jason trying to decide if the emotions he’s feeling really mean that he’s gay, the book also tackles homophobia, alcoholism, bullying, physical abuse, and causal adolescent sex. Just looking at the list is enough to make one think twice about picking it up. However, the engaging thing about this book that wrestles with so many polarizing issues is that the story is so real and heartfelt. Sanchez characterizes each boy with truth and openness. Even Jason, who is struggling to come to terms with who he really is seems like a boy readers might be going to high school with right now.

The setting is an everyplace high school with typical kids and cliques. The sinister thing is the normalcy of the peer groups surrounding the three boys. There’s nothing really Evil about any of the kids who sneer at “faggots” or warn others against the “queers”. Those of us still in the education trenches see these behaviors every day and when one bad seed is eradicated it seems two more spring up in its place. Rainbow Boys shows the prevalence of homophobia and the  bullying that accompanies it. When natural fear of “other” or “not-like-me” builds into ridicule and judgement, it is difficult to know how to stop it. What seems a normal developmental aversion to people who are “not like you” becomes twisted and ugly when fear and rejection are given power rather than tolerance and compassion.

Sanchez’s handling of the family dynamics in each boy’s home is realistic and while Jason’s mother’s defiance seems a little conveniently timed, it is a realistic (if speedy) depiction of the road alcoholic’s families must travel to break the cycle of addiction and codependency. I liked that Sanchez didn’t tie all of that up in a nice bow. The mother’s stand seemed coincidental enough as it was to have everything turn out so nicely.

And take the homosexuality out of the story and there are still great themes threaded throughout the story. Discovering one’s identity and purpose on the way to post high school pursuits is something every teen struggles with. Realizing your first love doesn’t love you and that loving yourself is more important is a giant step toward becoming independent. Staying true to yourself in spite of detractors or social pressure is something even adults struggle with and Sanchez handles them all with realism and heart. While not a read for every student, this is definitely one I would hand to readers struggling to find themselves in a world of so many options.