Slam, by Nick Hornby

Sam, who's at sixteen is half his mother's age, finds himself with the beautiful Alicia as a girlfriend. Too good to be true? Maybe. Life certainly gets complicated, but he's always got Tony Hawk to turn to when he needs guidance...

I approached this book with some trepidation: I hadn't really liked A Long Way Down, and thought that this book was pitched at teenagers and was all about skateboarding. But as it turns out my concerns were unfounded: it's better than ALWD, and while it would be suitable for younger readers, it's still got a lot to offer the more mature audience.

Sam has read Hawk's autobiography so many times that he lines from it pop up in his mind in response to pretty much any situation he finds himself in. And so he can ask for Hawk's help when trying to deal with problems relating to Alicia, to his mother and her boyfriends, to his estranged father, and more. As Sam himself admits, it's not always obvious that the answers are particularly helpful, but they invariably throw some kind of light on the situation - or at least, that's how it appears to Sam.

The description of how Sam struck up a friendship with Alicia, and how that blossomed, was great. I'll always be a sucker for stories where a sixteen year old boy becomes - against all his expectations - the object of affection for an older, apparently unattainable girl. And although this doesn't turn out how you might expect, or want, it's a very satisfying story.

By the time things go wrong, you have a sense that Sam is a pretty decent person really. But as he says:

It's amazing, when you think about it. I don't smoke weed, don't cuss out teachers, I don't get into fights, I try to do my homework. But I took a risk, for a few seconds, and that turns out to be worse than any of the rest put together.
(Reminds me a bit of the place in Reggie Perrin where Reggie considers unzipping his trousers in front of CJ - a life ruined in ten seconds: that's power.) And Sam's behaviour after this is often far from decent - in fact quite shameful, but you're still rooting for him because you know underneath that he's not really a bad person.

There were plenty of laugh-out-louds in here, and there was also a place which made me catch my breath: rather like the scene in "Stand By Me" where Gordie's dad says "should have been you". I think that shows how powerful the characterisation was - I really believed the scene, and also felt how shocking it was.

So, a great read. I got this from a charity shop, but I think I'll keep hold of it to read again.

Completed : 23-Jan-2009

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