Tag Archive | reluctant reader

Winger – Andrew Smith

It is so much easier for me to read YA books that are geared for girls, but since it’s often the boys who are reluctant readers in my classes, I really make an effort to buy and read books I think might appeal to them. Andrew Smith’s book Winger is one book which has garnered copious praise – and it is definitely a book I can highly recommend to those boys who say they don’t like to read.

Ryan Dean West attends a private school called Pine Mountain in Oregon. He’s in Grade Eleven winger-smitheven though he’s only fourteen. He’s super smart. He’s also a talented artist (many of his drawings, cartoons and graphs are included in this novel) and he’s also a terrific rugby player. His nickname, “Winger”, comes from the position he plays on the team.

But despite a whole list of things in Ryan Dean’s plus column, there’s a few things on the negative side. For one, this year he’s living in Opportunity Hall, O-Hall, where they stuck him “after they caught me hacking a cell phone account so I could make undetected, untraceable free calls.” Living in O-Hall sucks for two reasons: 1. Ryan Dean isn’t living with his two best friends Seanie and J.P. and 2. His new roomie is Chas Becker “a friendless jerk who navigated the seas of high school with his rudder fixed on a steady course of intimidation and cruelty.”

The one thing in Ryan West’s life that is both blessing a curse is Annie Altman.  Annie is also in grade eleven, but she’s sixteen. She’s Ryan Dean’s best friend, but he is also desperately in love with her.

…most people would think there couldn’t possibly be anything between us beyond a noticeable degree of friendship, even if I did think she was smoking hot in an alluring and mature “naughty babysitter” kind of way

This year at Pine Mountain turns out to be a year of firsts for Ryan Dean, but it is also a year when he makes a lot of mistakes. He capitulates to teen pressure and drinks for the first time. He gets into fist fights. He makes out with another guy’s girlfriend. But through it all, he remains self-deprecating. In his words: “I am such a loser.”

Ryan Dean is just one of the many lovely things about Smith’s book. I am not a fourteen-year-old-boy, nor have I ever been, but Ryan Dean’s voice feels authentic to me. He is constantly walking that fine line between making a smart choice and doing something he knows he shouldn’t. His narrative is filled with inappropriate talk about sex (just about every girl/woman he encounters makes his acute sexual radar) and expletives which he only ever uses “in writing, and occasionally in silent prayer.”

Winger is filled with laugh-out-loud moments – mostly due to inappropriate sex-talk, but also really lovely moments between Annie and Ryan Dean and Ryan Dean and Joey, another guy on the rugby team who also happens to be gay.

You couldn’t pay me to be a teenager today. But spending time with them is always a delight, even when they break my heart.

Highly recommended.

Give a Boy a Gun – Todd Strasser

gun

Todd Strasser’s topical novel Give a Boy a Gun  tackles a difficult and potentially divisive topic with a great deal of care and concern for all parties involved. As both a mother and a teacher, I found the book horrifying and troubling. Canada doesn’t have a gun culture per se. Sure, we own guns, but rifles for hunting mostly. In fact, “there are just two categories of individuals who are allowed an authorization to carry [handguns]: those who require one because of their occupations and those who need one for the “protection of life.” They need to get an authorization from the chief firearms officer for their province or territory. (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/who-may-carry-handguns-in-canada-1.1135084)

Strasser’s story is framed as an investigation by Journalism student, Denise Shipley. She hears about the death of Gary Searle in the gymnasium of Middletown High, her alma mater, and she heads home to investigate. She says, “I spoke to everyone who would speak to me. In addition I studied everything I could find on the many similar incidents that occurred in other schools around our country in the past thirty years.” The story of Middletown is fiction, but the notes found at the bottom of many of the pages, are not. The facts and figures lend an air of authenticity to the story Denise discovers about Gary.

As classmates, teachers, parents and bystanders weigh in, a horrible picture begins to emerge of a student who is bullied and who finds a friend in another outsider, Brendan Lawlor. Brendan’s best friend Brett describes him as “smart and funny and a pretty good athlete.” While Brendan lived in Springfield he was ” a really cool kid. Popular too.” But things change when he moves with his parents to Middletown and he starts high school.

I am not so naïve as to think that there isn’t a pecking order in high school. I would like to believe that at the high school where I teach (on the East coast of Canada) it is not quite so pronounced as the school Brendan and Gary attend. There, they are openly picked on and the teachers and administration ignore it.

Brendan and Gary got picked on. That’s a fact. We all did. Little guys; fat guys; skinny, gangly, zit-riddled guys like me. Anyone who wasn’t big and strong and on a team got it. You’d even see big guys on the football team push around some of the smaller players. Middletown High is big and crowded, and you’ve got ten dillion kids in the hall at once. Maybe if it’s an all-out, knock-down-drag-out fight, some teacher will notice and try to stop it. But if it’s just some big jerk shoving you into a locker, who’s gonna see?

I believe we work very hard (with more success than failure) to cultivate an atmosphere of acceptance here, but it doesn’t take very long for the reader to see how the daily abuse that comes from being perceived as “different” affects Brendan and Gary. The novel clips along to its inevitable conclusion and although it makes for grim reading, I also think it’s an important topic and one that would certainly generate lively discussion.