Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

Winning, by Lara DeLoza


4 stars

House of Cards meets Election in this wickedly entertaining story about an uber-ambitious high school junior.
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?

Since the release of the iconic Mean Girls in 2004, there have been an influx of similar spin-offs trying to achieve the same amount of entertainment and humor that Mean Girls has established for itself and its audience. I, personally don’t understand the enormous hype surrounding it (I’ve actually only recently watched it a few months ago, don’t hate me), but I have read my share of vapid yet addicting novels centered on teen social standards, and I can freely say that Winning has come the closest to achieving the idea of a satirical commentary on teenage/young adult issues in high school. Winning is pure schemes, manipulation, and attitude, it’s damn addicting but also comes with messages of confidence, self-actualization, and fighting for something you believe in.

Winning follows Alexandra Miles, an extremely manipulative, cunning, and ambitious high school junior who isn’t afraid to go to great lengths to get what she wants, and prevent others from trying to get it — permanently. Queen of the student body, president of practically every club and extracurricular at Spencer High School, and regular beauty pageant participant, Alexandra is determined to acquire every crown and title thrown her way, her latest goal being winning Homecoming Queen. Fueled by her extreme ambition and inner desires, Lexi creates a secretive plan, using Ivy Proctor, school outcast, to give her the final push to winning the crown, even if it leads to certain peoples’ downfall. But, there is more going on behind-the-scenes as Alexandra’s competitors, friends, and enemies have different agendas of their own to acquire what they truly want from themselves and Alexandra.

The story throughout was filled with intelligence, wit, and lots, lots of scheming. More interestingly, it was also very diverse with the inclusion of a lesbian character, Sam (aka Lexi’s best friend) and an LGBTQ romance. Winning properly pokes fun at the idea of social hierarchies in high school while maintaining a serious and devious composure throughout. Psychology and how a certain environment can affect you play a huge part in Alexandra’s character and others as well. I can’t complain about the unrealistic scenarios and character traits, because that was predetermined by the premise, but if you love Burn For Burn, Pretty Little Liars, and anti-heros (very important in this book, it’s mostly narrated by one), you’ll love this one too.

The entire book is prominently narrated by Lexi, but Sam, Sloane Fahey, and Ivy Proctor interject at certain moments as well. Alexandra is a great anti-hero in my opinion, she’s ruthless, manipulative, extremely mean, but also … very intriguing. It’s difficult to sit through all her schemes while reading them in her own perspective, but somehow, you’re rooting for her too. I despised Lexi majorly throughout the book, but I felt for her as well, and towards the end, damn, I even felt some sympathy toward her. It’s clear that Lexi is a very complex character and while I do think Deloza could have delved a tad deeper into her psyche, what was done was good enough to see Lexi’s complexity while maintaining an entertaining, light feel. The background characters were greatly characterized too, as they all had the same but different kinds of deviousness that Lexi had, utilizing their influence, character, and alliances with others to accomplish their own agendas. Erin, Lexi’s main competitor, is quite sneaky herself, and Sloane Fahey, who Lexi has a questionable history with, is willing to do anything to take Alexandra down. Sam, Lexi’s best friend and lackey, is easily my favorite character in the entire novel due to her immense character development from finding love and discovering her own identity.

I’m upset I didn’t pick this one up soon after it was published, but glad that I’ve finally read it before the year ends. Overall, if you’re looking for an entertaining, smart, Mean Girls-esque drama, Winning is just the book for you.