Monday, 23 February 2009

16 - 'Slam' by Nick Hornby

Young Adult books. Quite apart from the ridiculous Americanised name for this genre (and the fact that it makes no sense; these are books for teenagers, and no teenager in the history of the earth has ever been anywhere near being an adult - at least, not the ones I've known), these books tend to be a bit childish and well, dull. So what happens when one of your favourite authors (well, contemporary ones anyway) decides to veer off into the realms of teenage angst, underage sex and skateboarding (not something you'd find in your average Tolstoy novel)?

'Slam' is Nick Hornby's foray into the world of teen literature, and it has many of the hallmark traits we've come to expect from his works. As usual, there are expert portrayals of pointless rows and sulking males (at least, Sam, being a teenager, has more of a right to sulk and be childish than most of Hornby's male leads) and deadpan sarcasm stopping self-righteous anger dead in its tracks. There's also a fair amount of internal monologue going off at tangents (a habit which, if you've read a few of my blog postings, you will notice that I seem to have picked up - I find it hard to finish a sentence without a pair of brackets containing a very tangential line of thought!). Oh yes, and he mentions Highbury and Arsenal: the usual ingredients are complete.

In other ways, however, there is a marked difference to his 'adult' novels (although not many of the characters in those novels are any more mature than Sam...); the style of writing seems a little more simplistic while the plot seems to move along in a more predictable, linear style. Of course, none of his other novels contain a magic poster of a skateboarding superstar which quotes passages from his autobiography and may, or may not, be transporting Sam into his future so that he can see how his life is going to pan out over the next few years. I reckon I would have liked one of those when I was a teenager...

Without wanting to give too much away, 'Slam' shows what happens when teenagers get slightly careless and how things can develop when you've passed the point of no return (no pun intended). By being granted glimpses of his future, Sam is given the courage to do the right thing, even if he'd much rather spend his days skating around the local park or selling ice-creams at the seaside (it makes more sense in the book). The book also leaves you thinking what the 'right' solution is: should Sam run off as his Dad did before, or stick it out as Alicia's (the mother of Sam's child's) parents did?

It all seems to work out nicely in the end (although Sam has to take everyone else's word for that) despite all the ups and downs of nappy changes and disastrous immunisation attempts. I'm not sure how many times I'll be reading this book over the years (the pop culture references designed to appeal to British teenagers may date rather embarrassingly very soon), but I do have one definite use for it; any child of mine who looks like they're going to have pre-marital sex will be forced to read this book until they're prepared to swear a vow of chastity for the rest of their time under the family roof. One look at the reality of teen parenthood as portrayed in this book will do more than a hundred school abstinence or safe sex lectures to keep legs crossed and minds on more wholesome activities.

Like skateboarding.