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  • Kurt Dinan

We Need to Talk About Andrew Smith

There’s a heinous crime being committed in the world of writing today, and it’s this–Andrew Smith isn’t selling millions of books.

Okay, that’s hyperbole–No, not pronounced hyper-bowl, as my sophomores like to say–but I’m convinced Smith is The Guy right now in YA. Or at least he should be. Want proof?

Let’s look at Grasshopper Jungle for a minute.

It’s a book about what it’s like to be a horny, confused teenage boy growing up in the middle of nowhere. Oh, that sounds common? What if you add six-foot-tall praying mantises? Exactly. It’s brilliant. It’s if Salinger and Vonnegut hooked up to write a novel together. It’s brilliantly honest, intelligent, and probably the most accurate telling of what goes on in a 16-year-old’s mind. At least what went through my mind when I was 16. Minus the praying mantises.

Or Winger. Jesus, Winger. First, best cover of the year, okay? Let’s just put that to rest right now.

Winger is a novel about a fourteen-year-old at private school living in a dorm for troublemakers. He’s struggling to find his identity, woo his best friend, and survive on the rugby field. Smith’s achievement here is in Winger’s voice, which is perfect. In fact, come fall, I’ll be using it as an example of my students on how to loosen up their stilted writing and let fly with how they’re really feeling. And that conclusion? Man, it’s a killer. Something tells me Chris Crutcher (my favorite YA author ever) would approve. This is pretty much the book that when I finished I thought, “That’s what I want to be able to write.”

Still not convinced? Then there’s this–Smith seems like a damn good guy. I say this because when I’ve gone to him with writing questions or for advice, he gives it freely and balls out. I don’t think I’ve ever had another writer be so blunt, honest, and motivating all at the same time. Smith’s also a high school English teacher like me, so he has to going for him, too.

Oh, and then there’s his awesome piece over at the Nerdy Book Club about who he writes for and why. Trust me, it’s fantastic.

I’m not sure what else I can say. Go buy either of these books. Hell, go buy both of them. Smith has a bunch of others, too, and for the life of me I can’t figure out how he’s so prolific. Cloning, maybe. But seriously, this is a guy to support. I think we all secretly love it when we catch onto something before it becomes Huge. We take pride in being able to complain, “I liked ____ before it was cool and popular.” Smith’s not an unknown by any means, but if there’s any justice in the world, he’s going to be huge.

Thus ends the lesson for the day.

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