The first time my sister went to the US to visit her fiancé, she brought me back this hardcover edition of Nick Hornby’s Slam. She told me how she could not resist buying it given her surprise at books being available for that cheap and she knew I really enjoyed most of Hornby’s other books.
It took me a while to get to this one though. I think you have to be in the mood for a book by Hornby. If it is one of his great ones, he will make sure the book will have you happy and comfortable in no time, even if you didn’t feel all that well when you started reading. Yet, this is not true for all of his books. For example, I had a rather difficult time getting through A Long Way Down. As for Slam, well, it’s not that I struggled reading the book per se, but it definitely is not one of Hornby’s best.
To my mind, Slam was going to be about a boy who really liked skateboarding. A boy who talks to Tony Hawk when he feels his life has become a little muddled. And to some extend that’s true. Sam, the book’s protagonist, is a sixteen-year-old who is fond of skating, who does know Tony Hawk’s biography by heart — so much so that he can have virtual conversations with him asking his poster of Hawk stuff and Hawk answering within the bounds of what is written in his autobiography. The book goes along comfortably for a while, occasionally funny although not at Hornby’s best, as you follow Sam in his daily life, falling in love with a girl called Alicia.
And then this situation happens. I don’t know if it’s a spoiler really, as it is quite clear that something will come up from the very beginning, and it isn’t long until it becomes clear what that something is, but just in case you would consider it a spoiler, I am giving you this long introductory statement to make sure you have time to decide to look away — to decide not to read on beyond this point..
So, yes, Alicia becomes pregnant. And the book is basically about Sam’s efforts at coping, or really his failure to cope for a long while. It is interesting to me that I had never heard about this book being about teen pregnancy before, because really, it is the major theme of the novel. And it occuring as it does, in a book that I thought was going to be about skateboarding (silly me!), I think might be interpreted as the kind of slam against concrete that a discovery like that would have on the lives of sixteen-year-olds which is referenced in the title. In that respect, it seems right, in a way, that I didn’t know what this was going to be about going in.
It is not the fact that this book turned out to be about something different that made me feel a little let down in it. It is just that something constantly felt a little off while reading. Perhaps it is simply a weaker book by an author that has written some really entertaining and lovely ones? Perhaps his attempt to write for a YA audience just does not really sit well with his style? (I would say that all of his books would work for YA audiences, but somehow in this one the language seemed more deliberately simple which took away from the quality of the prose?) Or perhaps it is just that Sam, as a protagonist, was a tad bit much on the selfish side? Understandably so, perhaps, being 16 and dealing with pregnancy and a young child, but nevertheless, I think there might have been more development.
The book has its moments. It has its observations that ring very true. For example, I loved the bit where Sam observed how age does not seem set in stone, but instead seems to slip from one thing to the other, as the situation changes. There might be times when you feel 9, and others where you feel all mature and 25 — and this might change within days, or hours, or minutes. I also liked the pinpricks of critique about class consciousness. Overall, there is nothing really wrong with this book, and perhaps it is the fact that I enjoyed several of Hornby’s books better more than anything that made me like this book less somehow? I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this book was enjoyable, and fast to read, and funny in places, and sympathetic in its own right — but never seemed to become more than that?
Other Opinions: Rather a lot.