Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Review: Slam by Nick Hornby

Sam is nearly 16 and everything in life is going really well for him. His mom has dumped the boyfriend Sam didn't like; he's learned new, more difficult skating tricks (that's skateboarding, not ice skating--he's a huge Tony Hawk afficiando, even talking to his Hawk poster and having it talk back to him and show him his future); his teachers think he might have college potential; and he's started dating Alicia, a girl he'd thought was way out of his league. As Sam himself says in the novel, when everything's ticking along this well, it's time to go and screw it up. And this generally normal, average kid does that in spectacular, life-changing fashion. He gets his girlfriend pregnant, echoing his mother's worst nightmare for him (she had him while still a teenager as well). This is the story of Sam, how he screwed up, came to grips with his screw-up, and makes a new, unexpected and imperfect but liveable life for himself.

I'm sure there are a load of novels dealing with teenaged pregnancy but Hornby has managed to add a fantastic new one to the mix. With Sam narrating, rather than girlfriend Alicia, the reader gets a much different perspective than usual. How a soon-to-be teenaged father reacts is different than a soon-to-be teenaged mother. We are taken along in Sam's world as he battles the desire to flee without finding out if Alicia is indeed pregnant (well, he does flee but he comes back), as he tries to finish enough schooling to become something, and as he struggles through life with a new baby and a girlfriend he's not sure he wants to be with any longer. As in his novels for adults, Hornby is quite adept in drawing an adolescent boy and all the confronts him in life. Sam is realistic and sympathetic. The other characters make fewer appearances on the page than Sam does and in fact the other characters are fairly few in number. But the focus on Sam works and while this isn't the usual cautionary teen pregnancy tale, there is certainly no glorification, rather a humorous but still difficult realism. I generally tend to like Hornby's non-fiction better than his fiction but I can recommend this one as a well-written and satisfying read for young adult or even adult.

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