Sam is 15. He skates, chases girls and narrates his own coming-of-age novel. Things are going well until he gets one of those girls pregnant and is introduced to the world of adult responsibility. Plus, his father figure is a poster of pro-skater Tony Hawk, who (possibly) whizzes Sam into the future.
Aside from the time-travel malarkey, Slam is a teen social drama much like Melvin Burgess’ Junk, where the characters are given free rein to arrive at the moral of the story on their own terms.
Portraying a teenager is not wholly new territory for Hornby since his protagonists tend to fall into the 30-year-old boy category. However, Hornby’s leading men usually can’t locate their emotions, never mind enunciate them, so for this kid to be emotionally articulate is surprising. After a slew of mass-murdering or autistic teens in fiction recently, it’s nice to hear tales of social travails from problem kids with good vocabularies.
The literary detachment of the boy narrator can be emotionally distancing: we want to go on the rollercoaster ride with him but can’t be caught up in it and make sense of it from afar, just like you can’t see how cool a backside 180 kickflip looks when you’re in the middle of it.
Hornby tries to rectify this bind by using Hawk as a way of stepping outside of Sam’s mind, but ultimately sacrifices emotional drive for clarity. The result is a conservative scare story that doesn’t fully engage, but at least manages to avoid being overtly preachy.