Slam (2007) is a young adult novel written by Nick Hornby. It tells the story of Sam Jones, a skateboarder who finds out that his girlfriend is pregnant when they are both 16 years old—his mother’s age when she had him. The novel explores themes such as Navigating Teenage Parenthood, How a Few Seconds Can Change Everything, and Relationships, Wisdom, and Growing Up.
Nick Hornby is a renowned English writer known for his humorous fiction about ordinary people in relatable situations. Slam is his first YA novel. In 2008, it was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults.
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This guide utilizes the 2007 G. P. Putnam’s Sons edition of the novel.
Content Warning: This guide contains descriptions of teenage parenthood.
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Fifteen-year-old Sam Jones’s life is going well. He is preparing to apply for art college and spends most of his free time skating with his friends Rubbish and Rabbit. Sam’s idol is Tony Hawk, and he keeps a poster of him up in his room that he talks to for support and guidance. The poster talks back with quotes from Tony Hawk’s autobiography, which Sam has read multiple times. Sam’s mother had him when she was 16, and Sam often feels like his friends treat his mother as a peer rather than a parent.
Sam meets Alicia through their parents, and they quickly fall for one another. He starts spending all his time with her, neglecting his hobbies and his family. However, Alicia proves to be somewhat dull, and her parents are openly prejudiced against Sam and his family, so Sam breaks up with Alicia. On his 16th birthday, Alicia calls him with urgent news: She thinks she’s pregnant after having unprotected sex with him.
When Sam wakes up later that night, he finds himself in the future. It’s the middle of the night, his son is crying, and Alicia tells Sam to get up and tend to him. Sam feels completely lost and incompetent. The next morning, he is still in the same timeline. He figures out that he is living with Alicia and his mother is pregnant. That night Alicia asks him if he loves her, and he doesn’t know how to answer.
He wakes in the morning back in his old life. Feeling a new sense of dread at the thought of becoming such an incompetent parent, he runs away to a seaside town without telling anyone and quickly gets a job working for an elderly man, but he realizes that the life he’s running from can’t possibly be worse than this. The next day he returns home and makes up a story about being upset over his parents’ long-resolved divorce, which his mother believes. Sam goes to Alicia’s house but cannot bring himself to go inside.
Sam manages to avoid Alicia for two days, but then she comes to his house and confirms she is in fact pregnant. She is going to keep the pregnancy and wants Sam to be involved, asking for his help in breaking the news to her parents. Sam ends up being the one to tell them, and they react negatively, pressing her to get an abortion. Sam’s mother similarly reacts with disappointment and tears, but determines to support her son and Alicia. Sam develops a newfound respect for Alicia after watching her handle the day with strength and dignity.
When Sam and Alicia go to their first ultrasound, they find out they are having a boy and decide to give their relationship another try. Sam feels protective of Alicia and wants to care for her while she’s pregnant, but the two avoid having a sexual relationship for several months. They attend pregnancy classes together, and Alicia’s parents slowly come around to the idea of Sam moving in. At the same time, Sam’s mom announces that her new boyfriend, Mark, is going to be moving in. Sam then awakes in the future once more. This time it is two years after his son, Rufus, was born. He has a baby sister who adores him, and he gets to spend the day caring for Rufus. He finds he is not a totally incompetent father after all and that both children love him dearly, which gives him hope for himself and the future.
Back in the present, he goes skating and injures himself when he crashes into a friend. Sam’s mother warns him that skating is not a responsible hobby for a father, and Sam can sense his old life slipping away. Soon after, Sam’s mother reveals that she is pregnant, just as his vision foretold.
Sam is skating when his mom arrives to tell him that Alicia is going into labor. He rushes to Alicia’s house, then Alicia’s mother, Andrea, takes them to the hospital. Alicia is in labor for 12 hours. Andrea is supportive and helpful during the process, while Sam remains aloof until he hears Alicia name their son Rufus and realizes that the future he foresaw was real. Alicia’s father and Sam’s mum arrive shortly after, and they argue about Rufus’s last name until Alicia announces that he will carry Sam’s name.
Sam goes to live with Alicia for a few months and wakes up on the first night to find himself reliving his first vision. This time, however, he knows exactly where he is and what to do. He and Alicia quickly lose trust in one another and begin arguing often. Sam goes to lunch with his dad, who tells Sam that he doesn’t need to stay with Alicia, and that teenage relationships are often impermanent.
Sam decides to remain friends with Alicia but to move back in with his mom. However, he finds himself feeling lost without Rufus. He reads some statistics on teenage parenthood and is startled by how many fathers lose touch with their children. The knowledge makes him want to be a better father and to aim for the third and final future he foresees, in which he and Alicia are friends and successful co-parents.
Sam looks back on these years from the age of 18 and reveals that he still regrets having a son as a teenager, but that he is satisfied with what he has done with his life. He knows that the rest is yet to be decided, but he feels hopeful, thanking Tony Hawk for his advice and guidance.
By Nick Hornby