09 Sep 2013

Winger by Andrew Smith

I have been thinking a lot about realism lately. This might surprise some of you who may have caught onto the fact that I am currently going through a strange and intense fantasy fixation. But I suppose when you start thinking about one side of a coin it’s easy to flip, to start thinking about the other. Or when Jessica starts thinking about genre she can’t stop thinking about genre.

I studied realism – specifically contemporary realism for young adults – for a semester in grad school. The biggest takeaway? Realism is a complex literary genre filled with just as many structural and content-based expectations as the highest of fantasies. Also, realism does not equal reality. Also, also, can anyone even try to define the term “reality?” Go ahead and try. I’ll wait.

I’m not going to try to mash in a semester of hard study into this blog post, but Andrew Smith’s Winger reminded me of what I love so dearly about realism.

It’s the characters – Ryan Dean West, a fourteen-year-old junior at a boarding school who can’t quite fit in, who is in love with his brilliant, lovely best friend, Annie, who is awash with hormones and aggression and man-feelings. Life is constantly shooting him down for reasons that don’t make any sense. He’s adorable. Don’t tell him I said that.

It’s the settings – the intimate details of the places your protagonist lives that let you feel like you live there too. You could not have paid me to attend a boarding school as a child, but good boarding school books, like Winger, bring a school’s culture and landscape to life in such detail that I wish I had wanted to go.

It’s the voice – the language, rhythm, humor, cadence that bridges the gap between the character and his place, that not only shows you what life looks like for Ryan Dean but what it feels like to live his life.

It’s the way the plot doesn’t really exist – nothing really happens beyond Ryan Dean going to his classes and interacting with his friends and rugby teammates and trying to get into Annie’s pants. That’s not really a plot. But when the voice is good, the characters good, the place is good, then 100 pages go by, 200 pages, and I don’t notice the nothingness of the plot, and I definitely don’t care.

But when the author finally decides to drop down some major plot-points… well, my world is completely rocked and I’m horrified that the book has to end, that I won’t get to see Ryan Dean West through to the rest of his life. Just horrified.

Yeah, I really liked this book. Highly recommend.

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