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 into 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?
Lara Deloza’s crackling depiction of a perpetually two-steps-ahead popular girl makes for a fun, wicked story with a protagonist that readers will love to hate.
Winning is told through four different points of view: Lexi, the pageant queen who serves as both primary narrator and antagonist; Sam, Lexi’s best friend; Sloane, a former victim of Lexi’s bullying; and Ivy, an outcast who spends all of her time ignoring what people say about her big incident. The four come into conflict when a new girl named Erin moves to town and Lexi pulls together a plan to make sure sweet, genuine Erin doesn’t beat her in the race for homecoming queen.
The book knows its readers are smart and will recognize that Lexi is a terrible, terrible person who uses Sam’s attraction to her to keep Sam in line, works to build Ivy’s confidence up solely to knock her back down and make herself look good, and has no problem. That’s why I call her the antagonist when primary narrators like her are usually the protagonist. Still, for how awful she is, she’s an incredibly interesting character with little gleams of humanity here and there. The more you learn about her home life and the way her mother raised her, the more sympathetic she gets.
Still the antagonist, though. A sympathetic bad guy is still a bad guy. A sequel about her would be wonderful considering where she is at story’s end, but this is absolutely a standalone novel.
All four narrators have clear, distinct narrative voices and excellent characterization. They’ve all got secrets that slowly unravel too, like the horrifying story behind Ivy’s suddenly-punch-though-a-window-and-scream-bloody-murder incident. For Ivy in particular, what happened to her is spoken of and understood implicitly. Deloza’s decision to have Ivy avoid specific details is realistic and handled in a way that’s unlikely to trigger readers.
Thanks to the enthusiasm with which Lexi pursues her goals, it’s easy to get caught up in her plot. Still, you remember every now and again that this is all done in the name of being homecoming queen. Building an already-beaten-up girl’s confidence again just to humiliate her in a new way, drugging people, and worse–all so she can be homecoming queen. I’m only four years out of high school and I can’t even remember who homecoming queen was! It’s a worthless title but convincingly written like it matters more than anything else, which speaks to Deloza’s talent. Even the plan to take Lexi down made me stop every now and then and wonder what was in the town’s water supply!
What Left Me Wanting:
As well-written as all four narrators and the major supporting characters are, the central four’s voices see their flows interrupted from time to time. Their narration will forego contractions for some reason and it just doesn’t “feel” right when you try to read the passages out loud to yourself. Other than that, how much you love the novel is dependent on how much you can go with the premise and care about the homecoming scheme as much as Lexi.
If high school has you stressed as you’re trying to climb the social ladder or be named something or other (prom court, most likely to succeed, a club president, etc.), chill out. You’ll be there for four years and it’s your primary social environment, yeah but it’s still just high school in the end. It’s merely a place to learn stuff and the rest will be what you want to make of it! If you take it too seriously, you become Lexi and you really don’t want to be her. Girl has issues. Winning is both an entertaining read and a grounding experience I think could change a teen’s life for the better.