SLAM to a Halt: Teenagers Forced to take on the Roles of Adults

Hornby, Nick. Slam. New York: Penguin Group, 2007.

slam2.jpg"You know that bit in a film when they show couples laughing and holding hands and kissing in lots of different places while a song plays? Alicia and I were like that, except we didn't go to lots of different places. We went to about three, including Alicia's bedroom. Anyway. It took years for everything to come together like that, and it took two seconds to screw it all up. One mistake and my life would never be the same." --Sam in Slam.

Slam is a light, funny young adult novel starring Sam, a young skateboarder living with his mother in downtown London. He has an average teenage life; he plays Xbox, listens to his Green Day on his iPod, and, of course, skates. And he'll have you know that means skateboarding, not ice skating. Sam is an only child and is the product of a teenage pregnancy. He is a self-admitted unwanted baby, but he remains remarkably welll-adjusted: "...the thing about being an unwanted baby, which is what I was...You've always got to remind yourself it was their idea, not yours" (p. 19).

The thing with Sam's family is that they always seem to screw up. Unlike other families, whose wealth tends to grow over time, Sam's bloodline always catches some bad luck in their teenage years. When Sam meets Alicia, an attractive and seductive young lady at his mum's work party, Sam gets tempted into his first sexual experience. Just as Sam was poised to finish school and go on to university, now he fears he may have picked up just where his mother left off, destroying all his dreams of a care-free future.

At least when Sam gets stressed he has a trustworthy companion to always give him advice...well...sort of. "I don't believe in...ghosts or... any weird stuff at all. But this. it was something that started happening. and...Anyway. I'll just admit it, and you can think what you want. I talk to Tony Hawk, and Tony Hawk talks back" (p.4). The thing is, Sam's mum bought him a Tony Hawk poster and, whenever Sam needs somewhere to turn to, he gets some imaginary advice from his longtime friend.

Slam offers a lot of witty insight into the teenage mind. With good-tempered narratives and a hint of sarcasm, Sam will tell you all about the trials of a teenage pregnancy. This is a fast-read for any young reader and will not only relate Sam's experience in a constructive way, but will leave them craving more.

Recommendations for Teachers
Many students may have a hard time relating to Slam because they have not experienced teenage pregnancy. However, teachers can actively get their students involved with the novel through a number of assignments. Teachers can recognize the sections in which Sam told a poster of Tony Hawk his problem by asking students to write about their own personal hero that they also look up to. Teachers can also ask the students to write about a time in which they felt they were being forced to grow up too quickly. In this case, students may write about something such as a parent’s divorce, becoming an older sibling, or losing a family member. Regardless of the situation, students will realize that we all suffer through difficult times. This will help students relate to the main character not as a young father, but as a teenager who has had to experience a difficult time in his life.

Teachers may also focus on the writing style of the book. If students are learning how to write a personal narrative, Slam offers a perfect example of how to write about a life changing event in their narrative while still including humor. Even though Slam is not a personal narrative, and falls under the category of young adult fiction, students can still draw some good ideas for writing engaging dialogue, inner monologue, and humor.

Visit for some great reading guide tips and sample discussion questions!

About Nick Hornby:
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Nick Hornby was born in Redhill, Surrey, England in 1957. Establishing himself in the literary world, Nick has worked in journalism, writing for magazines like Elle, Vogue, and the New Yorker, and has worked as an English teacher. He describes his initial carreer as plagued by the conventions of university and struggles with voice 1986-87: "everything changed for me when I read Anne Tyler, Raymond Carver, Richard Ford, and Lorrie Moore...voice, tone, simplicity, humor, soul...I knew then what I wanted to do".

Since then, Hornby has accomplished much as an author. He has awarded the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award for Fever Pitch and the E M Forster Award by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. How to be Good won him UK's favorite work of fiction in 2001. He has also been shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2002, the Whitebread Novel Award in 2005, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 2006. Other writers recognized him in 2003, presenting him with the Writer's Writer Award at the Orange Word International Writers Festival. Many of his books have also been adapted for film.

Nick now lives in Highbury, North London near Arsenal's stadium. He writes daily at his studio, just a block away from his house. He also runs a charity for his son dedicated to the specialized education of children suffering from autism.

(All biographical information taken from Nick's publisher's page here)

Other Young Adult Novels by Nick Hornby:

Fever Pitch(1992)
High Fidelity(1995)
About a Boy (1998)
Speaking With the Angel(2000)
Song Book(2003)
A Long Way Down(2005)

Below are two videos of Nick Hornby talking about his novel Slam. The first video is a fast paced monologue with Hornby hitting the key points of the Novel. The second is an interview regarding the book on the Late Late Show on November 17, 2008.

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--By Chris Williams, Kim Straub, and Greg Hendricks.
Check out our reviews of Smack and Parrot in the Oven as well!