Slam by Nick Hornby

Bibliographic Information: Hornby, N. (2007). Slam. New York, NY: Putnam Juvenile.  ISBN: 0399250484.  304 pages.

Plot Summary: Sam Jones loves to skate, that’s “skate” using a skateboard, in case you are not familiar with the term.  His idol is Tony Hawk, shortened by Sam to T. H.  Sam has a poster of T. H. on the wall of his bedroom and often speaks to T. H., asking for life advice.  Here is how Sam tells it, “I talk to Tony Hawk, and Tony Hawk talks back,” (Hornby, 2007, p. 4).  Sam’s home life is stable, his parents are divorced, and he is being raised by a single mother, who had him when she was 16.  Sam is now 15 years old and has the youngest mother of all of his peers.  Sam’s greatest passion is skating, which he does whenever he can fit in the time for it.  And then, he meets Alicia Burns.  Alicia is beautiful and funny and she and Sam fall head over heels in love.  They want to spend every possible moment together, mostly in Alicia’s bedroom.  Their relationship becomes sexual and intense and then something happens, and it changes, and Sam no longer wants to see Alicia every possible moment of every day. In fact, he does not think he wants to date her at all anymore.  He is confused about his feelings, and while he is trying to sort them out, he gets the news: Alicia is pregnant.  This sends Sam right to his advisor, T. H., who seems to send Sam – SLAM! – on a journey into the future complete with visions of himself, Alicia, and their baby.  What is happening?  Can he get back to the present?  Does he want to?

Critical Evaluation: Slam is written in the first person from the perspective of Sam.  Sam’s honest voice, through Hornby, comes across as a confused, insecure, and, mostly likable, 15 year old boy.  Sam’s language and thoughts feel authentic for someone who is not quite yet an adult but is dealing with very adult circumstances.  The path of the novel is interesting, as it takes a twist from realistic fiction to science fiction with the element of time travel woven into the story.  At first, I found the time travel surprising and wondered if Sam was going to wake up and we would realize it had all been a dream, but then it seemed the time travel was really happening and it was up to Sam to figure out why he was being given this glimpse into his future.  Sam assumed Tony Hawk was sending him into the future to teach him something, though that thing was not always obvious.  This book contains a lot of humor. Sam’s dry wit and sarcasm will make readers smile and, possibly, chuckle.  And Sam’s eye rolling-annoyance, at certain things adults say, feels just like what a teen would do.  The text is accessible, and, as it is written from a boy’s perspective might be a great choice for male reluctant readers.

Reader’s Annotation: When 15-year-old Sam finds out he is going to be a father his life trajectory takes him into unchartered territory.

Information about the Author: British Writer, Nick Hornby has written other popular novels including Fever Pitch, About a Boy, High Fidelity, A Long way Down and How to Be Good.   Fever Pitch, About a Boy, and High Fidelity, were all made into films (Hornby, n.d.).  Though many of his novels would be interesting to young adults, Slam is Hornby’s only novel geared to young adults.

Hornby is very interested in music, and music often plays a significant role in his novels. For example , Sam and Alicia’s baby is named Rufus, because Rufus Wainwright’s music was playing in the delivery room.  Hornby collaborates and performs with the rock band Marah (Nick Hornby, n.d.)

Genre: Issues, Science Fiction

Category: Issues: Pregnancy and Teen Parents; Science Fiction: Time Travel

Curriculum Ties: English and Health

Booktalking Ideas:

  • What if you spoke to a poster of your idol and he spoke back?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 19

Challenge Issues: Premarital Sex, Teen Sex, Sexuality, Teen Pregnancy.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book.

Why is this book included? I was familiar with Hornby from the book and movie About a Boy, and I wanted to see what he could do in his young adult novel.

References:

Nick Hornby. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nick_Hornby

Hornby, N. (n.d.) Nick Hornby: Biography.  Retrieved from http://www.penguin.co.uk/static/cs/uk/0/minisites/nickhornby/aboutnick/index.html

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The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Bibliographic Information: Johnson, A. (2003). The First Part Last. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.  ISBN: 0689849222.  144 pages.

Plot Summary: Sixteen-year-old Bobby did not mean to become a father at such a young age, but he is, and his life will never be the same.  Switching back and forth between “then,” before the baby was born and “now,” after his daughter Feather’s arrival into the world, The First Part Last tells the story of Bobby’s transition from regular old teenager to teen dad.  Before Feather is born, Bobby and his pregnant girlfriend Nia are pressured by many of the adults in their lives to put the baby up for adoption, and the young soon-to-be parents want to do the right thing for their child, but what is the right thing?  And is the right thing for their baby the same as the right thing for them?  Bobby is conflicted and confused, but when Feather is in his arms Bobby realizes that he has never seen a more perfect being and he has never felt more love for anyone.  Ever.

Critical Evaluation: The First Part Last is a touching and down-to-earth story, which starts with a beautiful front cover image depicting a young African American man gently holding an infant in his arms.  Johnson’s writing is warm and imbued with emotion.  Her ability to present an authentic perspective of an urban male teen is laudable, and her tender depictions of Bobby and Feather together are heartwarming.  Bobby is presented as a regular 16-year-old kid with friends, and school, and a girlfriend but also as a young man who is gentle, sweet, loving, and completely dedicated to his infant daughter.  Navigating his different roles and different worlds is tricky; it is hard being a teen dad.  Bobby is exhausted, staying up nights with his baby.  But, Bobby’s loving descriptions of Feather’s hands and her smell and how soft the curls on the top of her head are when he kisses her bring readers into the room, feeling what he is feeling.  Many of Johnson’s passages are poetic.  A person would be hard pressed not to empathize with Bobby and hope everything works out well for him and Feather.  Winner of the 2004 Coretta Scott King Book Award and the 2004 Michael L. Printz Award.

Reader’s Annotation: At sixteen, Bobby goes to high school and hangs out with his good friends.  He never imagined he’d be a father already, and it’s a hard job, but when he takes his daughter Feather into his arms he realizes his enormous capacity for love.

Information about the Author: Angela Johnson has always loved books and being read aloud to, as she says, “Book people came to life,” (http://aalbc.com/authors/angela.htm).  So, it is no wonder that she started writing in her diary as a child and has continued writing ever since.

In 1998, Johnson wrote Heaven, a Coretta Scott King Award Winning novel that contains the characters of Bobby and Feather.  The events of Heaven, though written before, take place after the events of The First Part Last.  In Heaven, Bobby and Feather become friends with main character Marley.  Bobby and Feather’s family history is not expanded upon in Heaven, so Heaven readers who were intrigued by those characters have the chance to learn more in The First Part Last.  Likewise, readers who enjoyed The First Part Last get to see the next stage in the lives, albeit with less detail, of Bobby and Feather in Heaven.

Genre: Issues, Realistic Fiction, Urban Fiction

Subgenre/Theme: Issues: Physical, Mental, and Emotional Concerns: Pregnancy and Teen Parents

Topics Covered: Teen Pregnancy, Sexuality, Parenthood, Fatherhood, Coming of Age, Growing Up

Curriculum Ties: English, Personal Narrative

Booktalking Ideas:

  • You are 16 years old and you are told that in nine months you are going to be a parent.  Pause…  What do you do?  How do feel?
  • Read one of the passages where Bobby describes Feather, ask questions about that.  Does he sound like your average 16-year-old?  Why? Why not?  Does he love her?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 15 -19

Challenge Issues: Teen sex, teen pregnancy, some adult language.  In response to any challenges, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won two prestigious awards from the American Library Association: Coretta Scott King and Michael L. Printz.

Why is this book included? I read and enjoyed Heaven, which is for a slightly younger audience, and was excited to find that Johnson has also written this award-winning book for teens.  Also, It is important for a collection to tell many different stories from many different perspectives.  The First Part Last provides the unique perspective of a teen father raising his baby daughter.