When we first meet Gary Madden he's face down on a hospital bed rigged to be turned every two hours to prevent bedsores. His head is in a brace and he can move neither arms nor legs. He was carried off the football field the previous week with a spinal cord injury and doesn't yet know what his prospects are for recovery. Eventually he learns that he has some hope of recovering at least partial use of arms and upper body, but virtually no hope of walking again.

His parents, a faithful teacher, a bewildered girlfriend, and a few awkward but good-hearted teammates find their various ways to see him through months of adjustment, some of them more helpful than others. They all have something to learn in the course of caregiving: his mother has to struggle not to be overprotective; his girlfriend has to find new ways to interpret his moods and her own as they try to imagine what future their relationship could possibly have; his closest friends know little about the nuances of sickroom diplomacy, which makes sometimes for comedy, sometimes for unintended pain.

His English teacher who has recently lost her husband in a car accident, turns out to be a significant mentor in transition as she forces herself to reach beyond her own loss to help him in his. One form her help takes is to open his imagination to other ways of living, through literature and poetry, and to a metaphor for how to live that might work better than "winning."


While the novel sustains its central focus on Gary and his adaptations to a changed life, its secondary focus on the dilemmas of caregivers gives it a rich emotional texture and practical value. None of the relationships depicted is entirely comfortable; each character has something to learn. Gary's emotional life is represented somewhat cryptically; the teacher's ambivalence, the mingling of her own grief with her decision to involve herself in her student's pain, is more fully developed.

A useful book for support groups and classes where adolescents might come together over issues of loss, change, and vulnerability. In the background, the array of ward mates offer a sometimes comic, sometimes chilling spectrum of youth ambushed by injury and varieties of adaptive strategies.


Winning won the American Library Association Best Book Award.


Random House

Place Published

New York



Page Count