“Slam” by Nick Hornby

22 Oct


Nick Hornby is a British author pretty well known for his novels about guys in relationships. Movies were made out of "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy," and his non-fiction soccer novel "Fever Pitch" was transformed into an American movie about the Red Sox. "Slam" is Hornby's first novel for teens, and it's a bit hit and miss.

Here we have Sam Jones, a British teen who loves skateboarding and almost literally worships Tony Hawk. Sam has memorized Tony's autobiography so that when he talks to Tony's life-size poster in his bedroom, he imagines Tony answering with passages from the book. Sam is an unexceptional student, although he is interested in graphic design; he prefers to spend his time skating and trying out new tricks with Rubbish and Rabbit or just hanging out at the small apartment he shares with his young mom. At a party, Sam meets Alicia, a very beautiful girl from a well-to-do family who attends a different school. Regular guy Sam — to his own shock — quickly wins Alicia's affections, and before long the two are in a pretty intense relationship. Unfortunately, the relationship sputters out, and Sam starts ignoring Alicia's texts and calls.

On his 16th birthday, just when Sam thinks he's finally done with Alicia for good, she drops a bombshell. Alicia is pregnant, Sam is the father, and she wants to keep the baby. At first, Sam freaks out and runs away to a rundown seaside resort. He soon returns to break the news to his mom and face the consequences. From there, we see Sam struggle uncertainly and rather poorly with love, fatherhood, and responsibility.

I'll be the first to admit that on picking it up, I had no idea "Slam" was about teen pregnancy. I honestly assumed it was a skateboarding novel, and while there is much talk of skating, it's certainly not the focus of the book. In that sense, I was disappointed. I also thought that very little happened throughout much of the novel. Indeed, after Sam returns from his seaside misadventure, the book seems to grind to a halt. There is much talk about fatherhood and a lost future and sacrifice and how Sam's life will change. Sam spends a great deal of time hashing all this out in his head while still mostly avoiding acting at all like an adult. To me, it felt like the same conversation repeated over and over again. While I'm sure Sam's unsettled reaction to becoming a teen dad is quite realistic, all this angst, thinking, and worrying doesn't make for the most lively novel. Finally, there is a plot device in which Sam is transported, possibly by the Tony Hawk poster, into three separate points in his future. For me, this magical element undermined the entire story, as it was jarring and felt entirely false.

On the plus side, Sam, who narrates his own story, has a great voice. I mean this in the sense that he sounds like a real teenager, he's engaging to the reader even when he's being stupid, lazy, or weak, and he's just all around a cool person to follow through a story. While Alicia often comes off like a shrill, desperate girl, Sam remains a compelling, likable character. I guess, in the end, I'm lukewarm at best on my recommendation of this novel. I will note that it's definitely geared toward high school students, since there is, as you might imagine, much talk about sex and adult relationships, and some foul language as well.

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Posted by on October 22, 2007 in Uncategorized


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