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It could be argued that Nick Hornby's claim to fame is getting into the heads of his protagonists and taking readers on an emotional journey from this singular vantage point. In SLAM, his young adult debut, Hornby maintains his reputation by creating one of his most memorable characters yet.

Whenever 16-year-old skateboarder Sam Jones needs guidance, he talks to a poster of his favorite skater, Tony Hawk, who "speaks" to Sam through his autobiography and provides the Londoner with often frighteningly appropriate advice. And Sam is in need of A LOT of advice: he has just learned that Alicia, the girl with whom he recently broke up, is pregnant. While trying to process the news, Sam is granted a vision of the future (courtesy, so he believes, of the god-like powers of Tony Hawk) where he and Alicia are living with Alicia's parents and, together, they're trying to raise their son, Roof. Sam's first impulse is to run (which he does…to Hastings…and it doesn't go well). When he returns to face the music, Sam learns to rely on his own mettle in dealing with his impending fatherhood.

Before I get to the actual review, I have a disclosure to make: I adore Nick Hornby. I've been a fan of his work for some time. There is something very honest in the way he portrays male characters and, most importantly, their flaws. You may not like the occasionally narcissistic people he contrives and might never want to be their friends, but you have to admire him in how he lays it all out bare. Some writers are afraid to give their protagonists too many flaws and make them unlikable. Hornby has mastered the ability to craft a hero who is equal parts likable and reprehensible. And while it may be a bit much to call Sam "reprehensible," he is certainly a young man in need of a more global world view.

The greatest strength of SLAM is watching how Hornby skillfully guides readers through Sam's thought process, which, admittedly, is often Sam-centric. And whether or not you agree with the conclusions Sam reaches, you fully understand how he got there. His reactions to learning that Alicia is pregnant are real and raw. And just as Ebenezer Scrooge came away from his time-hopping adventure a wiser man, so does Sam Jones learn from his two trips to the future, retaining a better understanding of what it is to live --- and think --- in the moment.

"You really need to live your life, and not just zoom in and out of it." Sam observes. "Otherwise you never know what's going on."

SLAM (the title comes from skateboarding slang: to “slam” is to wipe-out) represents what any good novel --- YA or not --- should be. It's funny yet serious, poignant but unsentimental, grounded yet soaring with the promise of possibility. If this were to be both Hornby's debut and swan song as a young adult novelist, the world of YA lit would be a much sadder place. I can only hope that we'll be seeing more from Hornby's burgeoning YA voice again very soon.

Reviewed by Brian Farrey on October 16, 2007

by Nick Hornby

  • Publication Date: October 16, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
  • ISBN-10: 0399250484
  • ISBN-13: 9780399250484