By Nick Hornby
Penguin, NZ$35 | Reviewed by Simon Sweetman

Slam is Nick Hornby’s first novel for a teenage audience; his first foray in to the over-crowded but seemingly lapped-up category of “Young Adult Fiction”. But fans of his work to date will enjoy this deceptive book, filled with Hornby-isms.

The 18-year-old narrator, Sam, looks back on the last couple of years of his life. He’s hooked on skateboarding and Tony Hawk (the man when it comes to skating, as the book will tell you). He talks to his Tony Hawk poster and receives wisdom in return (oftentimes these are quotes from Hawk’s book which Sam tells us he has read more than 50 times).

The Slam of the title refers to a hard fall in skating, this of course goes on to have an added metaphorical weight as the novel picks up steam and plunges Sam in to an interesting set of circumstances. At 16 he gets a young girl pregnant and is caught in a cycle (his mother was 16 when she had him; she’s young enough to still be considered “hot” by Sam’s young friend Rabbit).

Hornby tries a few new things with this book – but there is still the love of music that was so obviously announced with High Fidelity. And he makes wise choices for the young-adult audience, using Green Day and Christina Aguilera as cultural touchstones; adding in a few interesting diversions and random names like Rufus Wainwright (my hope is that many a young reader goes off and finds a Rufus Wainwright album because of this book, clearly that is Hornby’s hope too).

Outside of making Sam a very believable first-person narrator, Hornby adds a trick to the tale by having the action flash forward to the future and then have a retrospective look, the still-young Sam comments on his actions and approach with a wisdom that is both powerful for young readers and still cutely naïve for adults wanting to get more from the story.

At just under 300 pages, this is actually one of Nick Hornby’s longest books and he deftly handles some important themes, adding plenty of his trademark humour and making a brilliant move towards a new style of writing – and clearly attempting to find a new audience. It also has the writer back on track after a couple of novels that saw him treading water.