Growing, not grown up in 'Slam'

Nick Hornby's debut teen novel revisits a familiar theme: the male and how he matures.

By Jennifer DeCamp, Times Staff Writer
Published December 16, 2007

By Nick Hornby
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $19.98, 304 pages

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Nick Hornby's novels have centered on child-men behaving poorly - a man yet to grow up (About a Boy), a man suffering relationship woes (High Fidelity), men pondering suicide (A Long Way Down).

Then there's Sam, Hornby's heartfelt, straight-talking narrator in Slam, the British author's first foray into teenage fiction.

Sam's a 16-year-old newly single skater (which for nonskaters - i.e., adults - means skateboarder, never, ever, figure skater). Like the outspoken man-child Marcus in About a Boy, Sam has his own adult views:

- On teen sex: "You hear about boys who refuse to wear condoms, and you hear about girls who think it's cool to have a baby at fifteen. . . .Well, those aren't mistakes. That's just stupidity."

- On teen pregnancy: ". . . They acted like a baby was an iPod or a new mobile . . . There are many differences between a baby and aniPod. And one of the biggest differences is, no one's going to mug you for your baby."

Despite Sam's mature outlook, he falls prey to the same mistake he derides others for. Fatherhood and adulthood loom. But because Sam is, well, Sam, he turns to skateboarding legend Tony Hawk for advice. And as any devoted Hornby reader might expect, Hawk - in the form of a poster on Sam's bedroom wall - talks back.

Much could have gone horribly wrong with Hornby's first attempt at a YA novel. But he specializes in immature men growing into their adult bodies, so it seems poetic that Sam's a slightly more mature teen being forced into adulthood by the coming birth of his child.

But Sam's journey to adulthood isn't swift or easy, and the transition highlights Hornby's storytelling. As Sam questions his future - giving up skating, getting money for child care, changing diapers - Hornby teaches teens through candid humor what it means to be held accountable without seeming like a preacher in need of a pulpit.

Jennifer DeCamp can be reached at (727) 893-8881 or jdecamp@sptimes.com.