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Book Review: Slam by Nick Hornby Gets Teens Right

Nick Hornby, author of High Fidelity and About a Boy, does it again with this refreshingly real take on teen pregnancy.

More reviews from this mother-son duo:

PARENT REVIEW

I’ve been trying to get my kids to read Nick Hornby. Both boys, now 15 and 20, adore the film adaptation of High Fidelity, which follows a record store owner’s adventures in love and music. I’ve been pushing About a Boy for a while now, but so far, no dice. Both films are about men struggling to grow up who finally show up for adulthood a little later than expected.

So when I listened to the opening chapter of Hornby’s Slam and realized how much my son Finn would love it, I had to get crafty. He was already onto my Hornby jag because of the failed About a Boy family movie night campaign. So instead, I skipped the persuasion phase and simply started playing the audiobook in the car.

It only took one drive from home to school, and Finn was hooked.

Narrator Nicholas Hoult (of About a Boy) is fantastic as Sam, a charming 16-year-old who skateboards, confides in his Tony Hawk poster and—unlike Hornby’s other male protagonists—must show up for adulthood much earlier than expected.

Sam’s voice is clear, affecting, and true. He loathes narrators that sound like an adult’s idea of a teenager, much like Finn (who has stopped reading young adult novels altogether).

In the book, Sam’s ex-girlfriend discovers she is pregnant. Hornby offers up humor and clever satire amid the typical fear accompanying the saga of teenage pregnancy. That helped defuse any awkwardness listening to the book together. It also encouraged organic conversation—without the usual blushing, fidgeting, or desperate fight-or-flight response. Slam prompted some great talks about sex, pregnancy, abortion, social support for young parents, and the songs we’d choose to accompany our major life events. (Hornby would surely approve.)

I may not persuade Finn to watch About a Boy, but I went ahead and downloaded the audiobook for our next car trip.

I think I’ll just turn it on and see what happens.

Jess Lahey is an educator and author of The Gift of Failure.


TEEN REVIEW

Many books that aim to write from a teen perspective fall flat or feel out of touch. Nick Hornby’s Slam avoids this pitfall with a richly characterized and genuine perspective.

Though the narrator, Sam, may be somewhat dimwitted at times, his flaws create a greater sense of realism. Hearing the perspective of a young man experiencing both love and anxiety creates scenes so vivid and powerful that I found myself wondering whether the writer was remembering genuine events from his own life.

Small details—such as Sam’s slightly awkward attempts to flirt with a good-looking girl or his worry when faced with unfamiliar situations—allow readers to empathize deeply with similar experiences they’ve faced. Every moment of desperation, curiosity, and boredom was mirrored in my own mind when I read this book. But I never truly felt uncomfortable—simply more invested in the character.

After finishing the novel, I found myself returning to the beginning of the story.

It gave me a sense of simplicity and contentment, just as Sam attempts to return to a time before his life becomes increasingly hectic and stressful. (Whether intended by the author or not, this book invokes a strong desire to reread it.) There is a genuine sense of passing time between events in the character’s life. It causes the first few words in the narrative to feel somewhat nostalgic, the incredibly pleasant beginning of a very long and tangled journey.

If you’re seeking a book that accurately represents the young adult experience, Slam is the greatest contender I’ve found. It paints a colorful picture of the ups and downs of adolescence through a lens of humor and optimism. I rarely give a book like this a read. But I regret ever thinking it was just another simplistic young adult book pandering for my attention.

Finn Lahey is a sophomore at Champlain Valley Union High School in Vermont.

Jessica Lahey

Jessica Lahey is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and The Atlantic and author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed. Find out more at jessicalahey.com.