SLAM is the story of Sam, a 16-year-old skateboarder from London whose life changes instantly when his girlfriend Alicia gets pregnant. Sam’s narrative takes the reader all the way through Alicia’s pregnancy and even a few years into adulthood, thanks to Sam’s magical Tony Hawk poster which keeps “whizzing” him into the future to see what it’s like to raise a child as a teen.
YA literature has seen a lot of recent “issue books” dealing with teen pregnancy, but this is the first I’ve read that is told from the father’s perspective. And, although I’m not a teenage boy with a baby, Sam’s narration seemed like a pitch-perfect rendition of how a teenage boy with a baby might tell his story.
While the novel, as I said, reads a little like a Lifetime movie, there is one feature about Hornby’s writing that really stands out: the characters. All of them are incredibly well-realized – flawed, but still brimming with qualities that make you want to root for them. Our Hero, Sam, originally decides that the best way to deal with his girlfriend’s pregnancy is to run away from it (he takes the bus to the coast for about twenty-hour); but he also stays up all night with Alicia listening to his son breathe. Sam and Alicia’s parents are occasionally condescending, hypocritical, controlling; but they are also loving, supportive, and determined to help their kids through this situation.
And the best part about Hornby’s novel? It’s not preachy. Sam tells his story bluntly, without sugar-coating any of the consequences of his actions; but the “morals” of the book are subtle, shared with a wry sense of humor.
The magical realism comes into play during the few chapters when Sam gets a glimpse of his life in the future. Sam blames this time-warp on his buddy Tony Hawk, who talks to him through the poster on his wall; but the reader recognizes this as a kind of closure. When Sam is “whizzed” into the future for the last time, we see him and Alicia still struggling with the consequences of their decision, but they’ve also made a life for themselves in spite of it. They are still teen parents, but they’re teen parents who have taken their difficult situation and turned it into a good life. And even though the book is Sam’s story, this last chapter is almost a gift for the reader; it’s a way of showing us that all, according to Sam, “There was a lot of work to do, and arguments to have, and kids to take care of, and money to find from somewhere, and sleep to lose. I could do it, though. I could see that.”
This review is part of the First Book Blogger Book Club; you can read other bloggers' reactions to the book here, at the First Book website.