82 pages • 2 hours read
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Slam! is a 1996 young adult novel written by Walter Dean Myers. Drawing from Myers’s own experiences growing up in Harlem and his love for basketball, Slam! tells the story of 17-year-old Greg “Slam” Harris and his efforts to succeed in basketball and school while avoiding the pitfalls in his neighborhood.
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Glen “Slam” Harris lives in Harlem but attends a well-known charter school, Latimer, in the Bronx. The school is mostly white, and Slam, who is Black, is there as part of a program designed to increase the school’s diversity. Recently, Latimer’s basketball team has not found success, and Slam has plans to change that. Before he can do that, though, Slam first has to try out for the school team. After he shows up late to the tryout, Slam waits for his turn to play, watching the rest of the team play and evaluating their skills, confident that he is better than everyone. Slam shows his skills to the head coach, Coach Nipper, and the rest of the team and makes varsity. However, there’s one catch: Mr. Tate, the school principal, tells Slam that he has to improve his grades if he wants to stay at Latimer. Slam doesn’t want to give up basketball, but he also feels overwhelmed by the demands of school life at Latimer and wonders if he should just go back to Carver, his former school.
Slam’s mother, who is very supportive and wants the best for her son, pushes Slam to receive tutoring in math, but his dad, who can’t hold down a steady job and drinks a lot when he’s unemployed, doesn’t like the idea of someone other than him helping Slam. At the same time, Slam’s grandmother, Ellie, is in the hospital with cancer, though she is eventually released.
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Slam begins working on a film project for school. Using a camera borrowed from the school, he plans to make a documentary-style film about his neighborhood. Slam’s younger brother, Derek, really enjoys filming scenes in the neighborhood, and the brothers bond during the time they spend together filming. At one point, though, Derek loses the camera, angering Slam, but he later finds it at a pawn shop and is able to retrieve it.
At the same time, Slam starts spending more time with Mtisha, a friend of his from Carver, and they begin a romance. Mtisha expresses concern about Ice, Slam’s best and oldest friend from growing up, as she is worried he has started dealing drugs. Slam notices that Ice has more money and flashier clothes and spends more time with people Slam doesn’t recognize. He wants to talk to Ice about this, but he doesn’t know how to bring it up, and he’s scared of confronting his friend. Mtisha also starts helping Slam with math as he continues struggling to get a passing grade.
Over the course of the basketball season, Slam eventually earns a role in the starting lineup and helps lead the Latimer team to newfound relevance. However, Slam’s attitude earns Coach Nipper’s distrust, and at one point Slam leaves the bench during a game and storms into the locker room. He takes Coach Nipper’s decisions personally, but Coach Goldstein, the team’s assistant coach, follows Slam into the locker room and talks with him about the game of life—everyone is playing the game of life, not just those on the court, and Slam needs to remember that only he is in charge of his actions, and no one else. His future is wide open if he commits to putting in the work needed to achieve his goals.
The basketball season culminates in the conference championship game versus Slam’s former school, Carver. Ice plays for Carver, and he and Slam face off in a very physical battle that goes down to the wire. Slam leads Latimer to victory, and everyone is thrilled they won. Slam doesn’t want anything to get between him and Ice, so they agree to meet up at a party later that night.
At the party, Ice gives drugs to a woman addicted to crack. Slam is horrified because he was convinced that Ice was not dealing. Ice and Slam get into a fight, and Slam storms out of the party. At school the next day, everyone is cheering for Slam and the rest of the team, and Slam learns from Mtisha that Ice plans to stop dealing. Slam feels optimistic about his future, knowing that things are unwritten and only he can author his story.
By Walter Dean Myers