Whilst browsing at the library I spotted Slam by Nick Hornby. This is one of Hornby’s few books that I haven’t read so I promptly borrowed it. This step into YA literature feels relatively natural given that so many of his protagonists (including himself) are men struggling to come to terms with adulthood and the responsibilities of “growing up.” Here, the dilemma is much the same, however it’s much more direct, and instead of a young man grappling adulthood, it’s a teenage boy grappling with the implications of a monumental adult responsibility.
There have been a number of good YA books about teen pregnancy – I’m not sure this would make it onto a Top 10 list. Sam, an 18-year-old North London lad, has a stereotypical background (raised by a single mother who had him whilst herself a teenager and emotionally distant from his father). Hornby makes a lot of Sam’s wanting to be a good dad, but it comes too late in the text for it to have the emotional impact it needs.
The central character device of having him talk to a Tony Hawk poster reminded me of Bend It Like Beckham but Hornby has researched skater terminology and slang and Sam’s relationship with his friends is entertaining. The cast doesn’t really extend beyond Sam, his girlfriend, their respective parents, and two skater acquaintances.
I didn’t believe in his relationship with the middle-class Alicia as it’s unclear what she saw in him other than that he was there and a way of getting at her snobby parents. Alicia is two-dimensional (all we learn is that she wants to be a model and is a little arrogant) and it’s disappointing that Hornby avoids any discussion of her aborting the baby as this could have led to some interesting emotional development on both her and Sam’s part.
His narrative is full Hornby’s trademark observational wit, although without nearly as many pop culture trappings as usual. The book certainly carries a cautionary message about teen sex, but it’s never hectoring or reductionist. There’s a strong sense of hopefulness for Sam, despite the deep hole he’s dug himself. It’s not an amazing book, and feels clichéd for much of the time.