There’s a reason the film “Juno” was named after the teenage mother and not the baby’s father. It may be unfair, but generally when it comes to teenage pregnancy it is the mother who gets the support, the attention and even the blame. This is why I think I was so put off at first by Nick Hornby’s latest novel, Slam.
This tale of teenage pregnancy is told from the perspective of Sam Jones, a 16-year-old English boy who may have a future in art and design but is currently more interested in skating and Tony Hawk. When Sam finds out his first real girlfriend Alicia, who he dumped a month earlier because of waning interest, is probably pregnant with his child, he completely freaks out and runs away to Hastings. However, his foray into starting a new life only lasts one night and he soon returns home, but is still too cowardly to call Alicia or tell his mother.
I neglected to mention that Sam’s decision to run away came after talking to his Tony Hawk poster, who he then fast-forwarded him a year into the future to see what life with Alicia and his son Roof would be like. It’s an odd plot device that would probably mean more if I cared more about Tony Hawk and skateboarding culture. I couldn’t ever really connect with this aspect of the novel and found myself wanting to skip over these frequent conversations.
The novel redeemed itself for me with its discussion of teenage pregnancy. In his attempt to deal with his situation, Sam, whose mother had him as a teenager, shares many entertaining statistics and insights into how teenagers end up having babies. And despite his initial freak out, Sam comes to accept his impending fatherhood. It is fascinating to see him and Alicia grow together and than back apart as they try to prepare and deal with having a baby.
Hornby’s wit is unparalleled and with his trademark plethora of pop culture references serves to bring this story to life. This is his first “young adult” novel, but the humor and style fits right in with the rest of his works. While not my favorite of his books (I would recommend A Long Way Down, a morbid yet hilarious tale of four drastically different people’s similar struggles with suicide.), Slam was an easy, satisfying read great for my daily commuting.
My favorite quote: After Sam’s mom finds out about the pregnancy:
“The first thing Mum said when they’d all gone was, “Do you think it’s just bad luck? Or are we stupid? … I couldn’t really tell whether I’d been stupid or not. Probably I had. One thing it doesn’t say on the side of a condom packet is WARNING! YOU MUST HAVE AN IQ OF A BILLION TO PUT THIS ON PROPERLY!”