So, I bet you’re thinking this is the first of my “25 Books” right? Well you’d be wrong. I read this over the Christmas period whilst at my parents. I have since finished my first 25-er (that’s sounds naff but I need some sort of shorthand) but I felt like I owe this one a review first.
Slam is about a 16-year-old skater (skate-boarder) called Sam. Sam loves skating and has read the autobiography of his hero Tony Hawk hundreds of times. So much so that when he needs to confide in someone or ask for advice he talks to a poster of Tony who “talks” back in quotations from the book. Sam’s life is turned upside down when he meets Alicia, a short-lived girlfriend who becomes the subject of a (hopefully) lifelong relationship. She becomes the mother of his child.
I liked this book. Mostly. For a start it was very readable. I find Hornby so anyway but here, where he’s trying to emulate the voice of a 16-year-old, it was even more so. No surprise then that I finished it in only a few hours over a couple of days. Although that may have had something to do with trying to escape watching soaps and gameshows with my parents.
If there was anything I didn’t like about the book it wasn’t the fault of the writing per se, it was the subject matter. As a mumble-something-year-old man who’s still single, probably would like not to be but who’s always ben iffy about having kids, it pushes lots of buttons for me. It caught me off guard as the back cover doesn’t mention pregnancy and I hadn’t read any reviews – I bought it because it was the latest Hornby. Anyway this is a book review not a discussion of my issues.
Had I read any reviews (which I did immediately after) I’d have seen that it’s viewed as a book for “young adults” simply because the main character is that age and it’s told from his pov. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Isn’t the point of reading (and perhaps writing) to see the world through another pair of eyes? In any case I’d recommend it to anyone who likes Hornby’s brand of gentle observational comedy. I say gentle because it’s nowhere near as sharp as “High Fidelity” was, but then that’s my favourite of his and I don’t think anything since has been as good.
What lets the book down slightly for me is that it tries to sort of have its cake and eat. It wants to have something approaching gritty realism but it wants to wrap it in a softer, gentler and above all optimistic view of human nature. So it shows us that teenage pregnancy is a life-altering, if not life-wrecking event (a “slam” in skating is when you fall and hit the ground hard) and that it makes things tough at an age when you’re not necessarily equipped to deal. However it pulls out an ending, which while it doesn’t negate any of that, allows the reader some relief from thinking, “this is just going to be hard grind of juggling school, work and baby-care”. To do this Hornby uses a device on top of the Tony Hawks device, something which up until that point I could have happily lost. When the ending occurred I could suddenly see why he’d done it. It felt a little like a cheat, slightly unearned. However it was a genuine relief to have some sense of ongoing happiness for these characters.
Apologies for being a little vague. For once I don’t want to give away the ending.
7/10 – for the humour, the readability and the main character.