Winning by Lara Deloza
Published by HarperTeen on June 28, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction
Pages: 336 – paperback, 304 – ebook
Format Read: paperback ARC
Rating: 4 stars
Whoever said being nice would get you to the top?
Certainly not Alexandra Miles. She isn’t nice, but she’s more than skilled at playing the part. She floats through the halls of Spencer High, effortlessly orchestrating the actions of everyone around her, making people bend to her whim without even noticing they’re doing it. She is the queen of Spencer High—and it’s time to make it official.
Alexandra has a goal, you see—Homecoming Queen. Her ambitions are far grander than her small town will allow, but homecoming is just the first step to achieving total domination. So when peppy, popular Erin Hewett moves to town and seems to have a real shot at the crown, Alexandra has to take action.
With the help of her trusted friend Sam, she devises her most devious plot yet. She’ll introduce an unexpected third competitor in the mix, one whose meteoric rise—and devastating fall—will destroy Erin’s chances once and for all. Alexandra can run a scheme like this in her sleep. What could possibly go wrong?
Many thanks to the publisher, HarperCollins, for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. This is in no way impacted my views & opinions below.
I’ll start off by saying this: If you’re looking for a cute contemporary read about a nice heroine and her charming love interest, and a happy ending for both of them, then this book – my friend – is not for you. Winning will trample over all your hopes and dreams, then ruthlessly crush them into nothing. This book has honestly left me speechless; I can’t even form the words to appropriately articulate my feelings!
*deep breath* Okay, yeah, I’m fine now.
So, our protagonist is Alexandra, and boy is she ruthless and manipulative. Alexandra has a plan: win Homecoming Queen, become Miss Indiana, and then Miss America. Simple & breezy… or is it? From the very beginning of the book, Alexandra is established as the anti-hero who will trample over anyone and anything to get what she wants. We see her resort to manipulation and concocting some really, really messed up schemes. She’s a power-hungry bitch, to say the least.
Despite all that, her POV is framed in such a way that makes the reader actually want her to
succeed. I can’t tell you how many times I found myself defending her in my head. Alexandra’s also been affected by a few outside influences that made her into who she is, like her father’s death and her mother’s subsequent neglect of her. This served to help the reader empathize and relate to her. There’s also the fact that, from the exterior, Alexandra’s not that bad. She’s genuinely a good person, even defending her friend’s sexual orientation when she was being attacked for it.
Winning blurs the lines between the good guys and the bad guys. There’s a kind of moral ambiguity there, because everyone’s pitted against each other. The mean girl. The best friend. The new girl. The wimp. The lackey. They’ve all done cruel things to take down each other. No one is who you think they are. Good vs. bad is clearly a conundrum that this book wrestles with, and it does so excellently.
I’ve seen people describe this as Pretty Little Liars meets Mean Girls, which is a pretty accurate description. There’s a lot of devious plotting and cutthroat competition; everybody wants something. Alexandra wants to be Homecoming Queen and get out of this town, Sam wants Alexandra’s love, Ivy wants to not be an outcast, Sloane wants to take Alexandra down, and Erin just wants to be everyone’s friend.
There’s a lot of backstabbing, sure, but there are light moments, too. The f/f subplot was really adorable, and I loved how even though everyone – including her ‘best friend’ – tried to use Sam’s sexuality against her, she still managed to emerge victorious AND she got the girl. There are tons of witty one-liners, humorous dialogues, and most importantly, girl power!
In short, Winning is a book that is sure to surprise you, taking you on a whirlwind path of devious schemes & cunning plots. Bonus points for anti-hero protagonist, multiple POVs, and f/f subplot! I’d definitely say that there are still loose ends to be resolved; I want to know what happens next, but a sequel? Not so much. Leaving the book as it is would be so much better – it sends a realistic message that not every ending has to be perfectly wrapped up and tied in a bow. If you’re a fan of unconventional contemporaries with anti-hero protagonists, then this is definitely for you!
Rating: 4 fish