A teen at boarding school grapples with life, love, and rugby in a heartbreakingly funny novel.
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 infographics 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.
Andrew Smith is the author of several award-winning novels for young adults. He lives in a very remote area in the mountains of Southern California with his family, two horses, two dogs and three cats. He doesn’t watch television and occupies himself by writing, bumping into things outdoors, and taking ten-mile runs on snowy trails. He maintains a blog and website about his strange writing life at GhostMedicine.blogspot.com.
Winger CHAPTER ONE
NOTHING COULD POSSIBLY SUCK WORSE than being a junior in high school, alone at the top of your class, and fourteen years old all at the same time. So the only way I braced up for those agonizing first weeks of the semester, and made myself feel any better about my situation, was by telling myself that it had to be better than being a senior at fifteen.
My name is Ryan Dean West.
Ryan Dean is my first name.
You don’t usually think a single name can have a space and two capitals in it, but mine does. Not a dash, a space. And I don’t really like talking about my middle name.
I also never cuss, except in writing, and occasionally during silent prayer, so excuse me up front, because I can already tell I’m going to use the entire dictionary of cusswords when I tell the story of what happened to me and my friends during my eleventh-grade year at Pine Mountain.
PM is a rich kids’ school. But it’s not only a prestigious rich kids’ school; it’s also for rich kids who get in too much trouble because they’re alone and ignored while their parents are off being congressmen or investment bankers or professional athletes. And I know I wasn’t actually out of control, but somehow Pine Mountain decided to move me into Opportunity Hall, the dorm where they stuck the really bad kids, after they caught me hacking a cell phone account so I could make undetected, untraceable free calls.
They nearly kicked me out for that, but my grades saved me.
I like school, anyway, which increases the loser quotient above and beyond what most other kids would calculate, simply based on the whole two-years-younger-than-my-classmates thing.
The phone was a teacher’s. I stole it, and my parents freaked out, but only for about fifteen minutes. That was all they had time for. But even in that short amount of time, I did count the phrase “You know better than that, Ryan Dean” forty-seven times.
To be honest, I’m just estimating, because I didn’t think to count until about halfway through the lecture.
We’re not allowed to have cell phones here, or iPods, or anything else that might distract us from “our program.” And most of the kids at PM completely buy in to the discipline, but then again, most of them get to go home to those things every weekend. Like junkies who save their fixes for when there’s no cops around.
I can understand why things are so strict here, because it is the best school around for the rich deviants of tomorrow. As far as the phone thing went, I just wanted to call Annie, who was home for the weekend. I was lonely, and it was her birthday.
I already knew that my O-Hall roommate was going to be Chas Becker, a senior who played second row on the school’s rugby team. Chas was as big as a tree, and every bit as smart, too. I hated him, and it had nothing to do with the age-old, traditional rivalry between backs and forwards in rugby. Chas was a friendless jerk who navigated the seas of high school with his rudder fixed on a steady course of intimidation and cruelty. And even though I’d grown about four inches since the end of last year and liked to tell myself that I finally—finally!—didn’t look like a prepubescent minnow stuck in a pond of hammerheads like Chas, I knew that my reformative dorm assignment with Chas Becker in the role of bunk-bed mate was probably nothing more than an “opportunity” to go home in a plastic bag.
But I knew Chas from the team, even though I never talked to him at practice.
I might have been smaller and younger than the other boys, but I was the fastest runner in the whole school for anything up to a hundred meters, so by the end of the season last year, as a thirteen-year-old sophomore, I was playing wing for the varsity first fifteen (that’s first string in rugby talk).
Besides wearing ties and uniforms, all students were required to play sports at PM. I kind of fell into rugby because running track was so boring, and rugby’s a sport that even small guys can play—if you’re fast enough and don’t care about getting hit once in a while.
So I figured I could always outrun Chas if he ever went over the edge and came after me. But even now, as I write this, I can still remember the feeling of sitting on the bottom bunk, there in our quiet room, just staring in dread at the door, waiting for my roommate to show up for first-semester check-in on that first Sunday morning in September.
All I had to do was make it through the first semester of eleventh grade without getting into any more trouble, and I’d get a chance to file my appeal to move back into my room with Seanie and JP in the boys’ dorm. But staying out of trouble, like not getting killed while living with Chas Becker, was going to be a full-time job, and I knew that before I even set eyes on him.