Simon & Schuster BFYR
Free read from pulseit.com
Ryan Dean West is fourteen and attends a boarding school for wealthy (often troubled) kids. Although he’s only 14, he’s already a junior having skipped a couple of grades due to his intelligence. After he hacked into a teacher’s cell phone last year to make calls without it costing anything, Ryan Dean has been placed in Opportunity Hall, a dorm especially for troublemakers who might need a little more help in order to shine. His new room mate is Chas Becker who probably wants to kill him.
Ryan Dean spends his days pining after Annie, a 16yo junior who is also his best friend (and one of the hottest girls in the school who goes there by choice), training for the school rugby teams where he plays as a winger and avoiding some of the rugby bullies who want to make his life hell. As he starts his junior year he is suddenly torn between two girls and creating bumbling friendships with some of his new O-Hall friends as he sees his former friends drifting away from him. Ryan Dean spends his time drawing doodles of things that he wants to happen with Annie as he attempts to convince her that she wants him as much as he wants her, things that have happened in games or moments with his friends. But his easy going world, filled with rugby games and stolen kisses, late night poker games and practical jokes is about to get a whole lot darker and Ryan Dean is going to learn a horrible lesson about intolerance and jealousy and how it can end in tragedy and grief.
Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about a forthcoming book called Grasshopper Jungle which will be released in 2013 and is written by Andrew Smith. That led to hearing some good things about this one too and when I saw it was one of the free reads that Simon Pulse had for their 31 days of Christmas, I decided that I would give it a go.
Parts of this book, I loved. Ryan Dean is a breath of fresh air in terms of a narrator. He’s so funny and interesting and he really brings this story to life. He does seem much older than his fourteen years at times and at others, he’s like this geeky kid who can’t quite believe what is happening to him (more on that part of the story later). He has been moved to O-Hall after an indiscretion last year and now faces the year rooming with Chas, a bully who basically starts of the year hating Ryan Dean. Because of his younger age, Ryan Dean is often a target for the bigger more meathead bullies and the book starts with him upside down about to get his head flushed. However Ryan Dean is a valued member of the school rugby union team, where he plays as a winger (which is also his nickname). There’s plenty of rugby in this book – I actually didn’t realise it was played in America, they don’t seem to have adapted any of the English sports such as rugby league, cricket, etc in a really big way. I also happens to be the one game that I don’t really understand but you don’t need to.
My biggest problem with this book is that a lot of it reads like a fourteen year old’s wet dream. Ryan Dean is two years younger than everyone else in his year and he also embodies the skinny, weedy, geeky stereotype as well. He’s in love with his best friend, who is sixteen and incredibly beautiful and if that isn’t enough, he also begins ‘hooking up’ with another sixteen year old, beautiful girl who is also a junior. He spends a large part of the book pining after Annie but glued to the mouth of someone else, who also has a boyfriend. In between, whilst keeping these dalliances a secret from Annie, he also attempts to convince her that she loves and wants him as well and of course, apparently she does. Ryan Dean is funny and nice but he’s also pretty horrible to the women in this story and yet he manages to score the two best looking juniors in the school despite the fact that he’s fourteen. This just reads as so implausible and so not what I recall of the high school experience. It’s like this book is the hope of socially outcast boys everywhere. The girls don’t really show much in the way of personality or character and the way in which Ryan Dean and Annie are written is really odd and just doesn’t have that ring of authenticity to it. Chas and his cronies are, for almost all of the book, stereotypical jocks who pick on others and Joey, although amazing isn’t particularly original. In any other book this might not be so noticeable but this book is so jam packed with clichéd characters that it actually makes his total amazingness seem less so.
However the ending of this book is really, really good. I figured that an earlier event in the book was going to be the worst thing that happened and it turned out to so not be the case. Ryan Dean’s grief is so real – it might actually be the most real thing in this book. It is the one time I really felt his feelings and emotions and believed them. The rest of the time reading this book kind of felt like I was reading the dreams or aspirations of a young boy and although I did mostly enjoy it, at times it wasn’t quite as I had expected. What I really enjoyed the most were the drawings that were littered throughout. They were very cute and well done and added a lot of the experience.
Overall, I did expect to like this a bit more than I did though.
Book #325 of 2013