Friday, June 28, 2013

YA Friday: WINGER by Andrew Smith

Okay, so occasionally the MG Mafiosi stray into YA territory, usually at the recommendation of some YA guru like Matt MacNish. For a while now, Matt has been trumpeting the praises of Andrew Smith and then, well, I heard Andrew's latest novel was about rugby and I knew I had to read it.

Some of you may know I'm originally from England. Less of you know that, from the age of 9 until 17, I was a pupil at an English boarding school located on the Yorkshire moors. As with most British "public" schools (which are actually private schools), the main winter sport was rugby--and I played in rugby teams from the age of ten until I left the school in my final year as a member of the 2nd XV. (I originally played second row, but as I got older I was moved to wing--which for those of you in the rugby know is a very curious transition.)

Which brings me to WINGER. It too is set in a boarding school--although a co-educational one. (My school was all-boys until about 20 years ago when they allowed girls to enter. About time!) The school is located in Oregon, which is where I now live. The main character, Ryan Dean West, is so clever that he is a 14-year-old high school junior. He's also very fast, as a rugby winger has to be. [More similarities: I was a 14-year-old sophomore, so Ryan Dean is only a wee bit cleverer than me.]

Don't you agree that this novel has my name on it? I started it one morning and read all the way through in one sitting, it was that compelling. From the first scene, with Ryan Dean being held over a toilet by a pair of football playing thugs, the book has an air of menace to it. The menace continues throughout--the weather becomes a character, in typical dreary wintry Oregon fashion--and there are several violent episodes, including a knifing, which are harbingers of a tragedy to come.

Yet it is also a very funny book, and a book about friendship. A lot of this has to do with Ryan Dean's energetic take on the world, and the cartoons he draws which frequently make it onto the novel's pages. What's more, Andrew Smith has a pitch-perfect ear for the teen voice--and several times I had to stop to pinch myself that this wasn't being written by an actual teenager.

It is very true to boarding school life, with underage drinking, rivalries, and plenty of petty and not so petty cruelties. I won't spoil the ending, but I was not alone among readers (if Twitter is to be believed) in finding tears flowing down my face as I read it.

Friendships sustain us, and they sustain Andrew Smith's characters. But cruelty is also part of the human condition. The bullies who attack Ryan Dean in the novel's first pages, and who are responsible for the book's sad denouement, are not, in my experience, too far-fetched. In my boarding school, there were definitely a couple of characters that everyone in their right mind tried to stay away from. They were sadistic tormentors of younger boys. One of them in particular was a very talented individual and extremely skillful on the rugby field. But he had cold, cruel eyes and a penchant for violence which was truly unnerving. (Now that I'm old I wonder what it was in his personal life that drove him to such cruelty. But as a youth I knew just to duck and cover.)

My high-school junior read the front flap and wanted to read the book immediately. I would recommend it to high schoolers, with the knowledge that there are no punches pulled with the mature subject matter and the frequency of cuss words. As for me, I was thoroughly captivated by it, and will remember it for a long time. Thanks, Matt MacNish, for introducing me to Andrew Smith. I'm heading off to read his other novels now.

Monday, June 24, 2013


I am fortunate to kickoff the blog tour for E.S. Farber's new middle grade series Fish Finelli. I have to say in passing that Chronicle Books is one of my very favorite publishing companies (they also are the publisher for Michaela McColl's novels, which I've raved about on this blog before.) Chronicle's books always have great production values, and it's evident that a lot of care has gone into their design. These books are good to hold.

And read, of course! I read Fish Finelli in one sitting, and I'm sure my boys, who are nearly seven and ten  would love it too. It's a terrific "boy" book without all that tiresome flatulence and booger jokes. Although there is a scene with goose poop which, as Fish says, "seriously puts the N in Nasty."

What it's About: (From the Chronicle Books catalog)--When bully Bryce Billings bets Fish Finelli that he can’t find Captain Kidd’s legendary long-lost treasure, Fish and his friends embark on a quest to find real-life pirate treasure. Between sneaking into the library to track down Captain Kidd’s map, stowing away on a boat, and trespassing on an island, Fish and his friends have their work cut out for them. But will Fish actually be able to find Captain Kidd’s booty and win the bet?

Opening Lines:  "It all started the morning I broke into my lobster piggy bank. I had chosen a basin wrench for the job. It's a good tool for a delicate operation. I know this because my dad is a plumber and taught me lots of stuff about tools."

Why I liked it:

The three amigos -- I really liked Fish and his two buddies, Roger and T.J. Roger is a wisecracker of a sidekick, and T.J. is the grandmaster of snacks. Fish himself is a fount of information (and he doesn't even wear glasses!)

The humor -- The corny jokes are exactly how boys of this age interact. Here's an example from page 82. 
"You can say that again," said T.J., grinning.
 "That," said Roger.
 T.J. threw a malt ball at him.
The adventure --  There's stowing away on boats, trespassing for pirate treasure, and spying on potentially villainous librarians (sorry, librarians!). And the pace moves fast.

The illustrations -- These are the work of Jason Beene. Every few pages there is a fun, one-page pictorial spread. The cartoony look fits the narrative to a tee.

The sidebars, packed full of tidbits of information -- As previously mentioned, Fish is a bit of a walking encyclopedia. E.S. Farber has added a number of sidebars to expand information on historical characters mentioned in the narrative (Captain Kidd, Nikola Tesla and Marco Polo), animals (lions and ospreys), and history (the origin of the white flag of surrender, as well as the history of the microwave oven). Cool stuff.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: E.S. Farber is the mother of a boy who likes facts along with his fiction, which inspired her to write Fish Finelli. She has authored numerous books for children. She lives in Amagansett, New York.

Here are the other tour dates:

Youth Literature Reviews
Author Interview
Give Away

Somewhere in the middle
Author Interview

Ms. Yingling Reads
Author Interview
Give Away

There's A Book

Give Away

Thanks for stopping by today. Leave a comment, and you will be entered into a drawing for a giveaway of a copy of Fish Finelli: Seagulls Don't Eat Pickles. Happy Reading!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Over At Project Mayhem...

Pals, I have a post over at Project Mayhem today, entitled :How Do You Get Someone to Read Your Book?" Do pop on over if you have a moment.

And, if you haven't yet done so, check out our fantastic 700 Follower giveaway. Agent phone calls, critiques, and ARCs aplenty!!